The Mountain Goats
w/ The Baptist Generals. Friday, June 7, 7 p.m. Center Church on the Green, 250 Temple St., New Haven. manicproductions.org. $20 (Sold Out).
The Mountain Goats' John Darnielle starts out the bands' latest album, Transcendental Youth, with some aggressive opening-line life advice.
"Do every stupid thing that makes you feel alive," he sings. "Do every stupid thing to try to drive the dark away. Let people call you crazy for the choices that you make. Find limits past the limits, jump in front of trains all day and stay alive. Just stay alive."
"Just stay alive" is a recurring theme of the album, and as the father of a young child, Darnielle interprets the motif through a parental lens in his personal life.
"I would never let my son do some of the stuff that we would run around doing when we were kids. And why? Because I value his life. Because I don't want him to come to harm. I survived, but there's other kids who didn't. You see this sort of thing going on on Facebook a lot, where people will go, 'Back in my day we played in the street and we came out OK.' Well, you came out OK, but a lot of kids didn't. And they're not here to post on Facebook about it. That being said, that's the challenge of parenthood. You want to let your child explore as much as you can stand, but at the same time, you make sure he doesn't come to harm that will stop him from being able to explore all the other things."
The Mountain Goats will arrive in New Haven Friday with Darnielle on vocals and guitar and Peter Hughes on bass — touring as a duo for the first time since 2007. (They'll be playing at Center Church on the Green, and Darnielle seemed delighted to discover there's a crypt under the unique venue/place of worship.) In addition to supporting Transcendental Youth, which came out last fall, they'll also be prepping for the rerelease of the band's fan-favorite album All Hail West Texas, recorded on a Panasonic boombox about a decade ago and featuring staple, encore-worthy songs like "The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton," "Jenny" and "Fall of the Star High School Running Back."
Upon listening to a doo-wop box set he owns, Darnielle was drawn to the pure voice of Frankie Lymon of "Why Do Fools Fall in Love" fame and his early demise, resulting in the song "Harlem Roulette" on Transcendental Youth.
"He's on like, a young Michael Jackson level," says Darnielle. "He's 13 years old, right? And he's from poverty, right? He's got some good music teacher at school and this incredible amount of natural talent. And he happens to be in the right historical moment to suddenly go to England. A kid like Frankie Lymon was not going to play in England, he was going to work a day job, you know? So he gets to see the world and have all these amazing experiences. It's a classic child-star story that isn't really bound by time or class or anything. When you're exposed to all these rich experiences they are hard to sort through. By the time he's 18, he's a little used up and he enlists in the army but he can't deal with the structure, and he gets discharged and winds up living with his mom. There's something profoundly moving about that to me. It's like, the idea that not many people can be that close to the flame without being consumed by it."
Opening the show will be the Baptist Generals, a band out of Denton, Texas on Sub Pop Records that the Mountain Goats toured with back in the All Hail West Texas days. They are not to be missed.
"It's really important that you should come see the Baptist Generals," says Darnielle. "Maybe you saw the Mountain Goats are coming and you don't like the Mountain Goats so you don't want to come. That's cool. That's fine. Not everybody loves what we do. But you should come see the Baptist Generals because they haven't toured in a very long time... This is one of the great under-sung bands in the country, and they haven't made a record in like 10 years. Chris Flemmons is their main guy. He went through all kinds of personal stuff and he is a slow and careful writer. But god almighty! Their songs are beautiful. They are just fantastic. Earmark your door charge to the Baptist Generals if you just want to see them. They are a great band doing a thing that nobody else does. Which is what makes it hard to talk about. It's got a little bit of what people would call Americana, I guess, but it's not that. And it's got a sort of Southwestern flavor, maybe a little in the Calexico vein, but it's a lot more garage than that. They are unique, and that's a rare quality."
Darnielle doesn't have to worry about any empty seats at the show, however, because it's already sold out.
"I will see you at the crypt," he says.