Some bands hate being pigeonholed. Some bands invite it. Football, etc. says straight-up in its press materials that it plays late ’90s emo. The info is sort of unimportant, because they make it clear from seconds into the first tune that this is Mineral, Promise Ring and American Football territory. They love the sound, so they’re making more of it. Nothing wrong with that at all.
So, there’s your first barrier: do you like late ’90s emo? Are you down with the prettier side of guitar-based rock? If yes, continue. If no, do not.
The second barrier: Is Football, etc. good?
The band certainly has a lot going for it. They have a strong female vocalist who fits in well to the sound. They write solid songs that fit neatly within the constraints of the genre. They reference Lambeau Field in a song title, which makes me giddy. The three musicians all know their stuff, chops and pedals included. This sounds right.
As to innovation? Closing track “Mouthguard” features some excellent, quick-paced guitar work that held my attention tighter than anything else on the album. Unfortunately, “Mouthguard” is only 1:24. The rest of the tunes will be beloved by those who miss the days when bookish dudes played wistful rock and ruled the open road, but could shoot over the heads and/or under the radar of those unfamiliar with the genre.
Bonus: each of the ten tracks on “The Draft” is named after a football term (“Safety,” “Incomplete,” “Sideline,” “Hail Mary,” etc.). It also serves as a mild subversive tactic in showing how much the English language has been changed by sports phrases, as each of these terms (except my beloved “Lambeau”) has a double entendre to an event or emotional state. Super-cool.
Football, Etc.’s “The Draft” is a good album that will thrill fans of the genre. The songs are strong enough that they may be able to bring new fans into the fold, if people haven’t heard it. It has been almost ten years since people were rockin’ this thing. I certainly enjoy “The Draft.” I hope other people do as well. You can hear a preview here.
And if you’re in Norman for Norman Music Fest, you should check their set at Opolis at 6 p.m. Friday, April 29. I will be there. I am excited about it.
Good bands write songs that people like and perform them well. Great bands write songs that people love and perform them excellently. The best bands write songs and perform in such a way that when a listener has finished watching or hearing, that listener feels the only appropriate thing to do is join the band and be awesome with them or — barring that Black Flag-esque experience — form their own band that is exactly like the band in question.
Breathe Owl Breathe is one of the very best bands I’ve seen live.
To start: in them there is no guile. The three members of the band are earnest beyond anything I’ve ever seen on stage. Whether it’s playing with a werewolf hat/puppet, telling dragon stories, delicately stagediving, dressing the part, cracking jokes or (oh yeah) performing their music, all is done with an absolute belief that “this is totally cool and fun.”
Many bands, when pulling off antics similar to BOB’s, would infuse the proceedings with a sense of irony, just as a protective device: The band still must be taken seriously, you know. Not so with these three. Their childish wonder and goofy stage antics are the serious part. And when the audience realized this on Thursday, Nov. 4, that’s when things got interesting.
“Dog Walkers of the New Age” kicked off the set, but the crowd was standoffish and confused at the fist-pumps in the otherwise mellow tune. It wasn’t until Micah donned a camail and started telling the story that precedes “Dragon” that people really got into it. Micah, Andrea and Trevor encouraged the audience to participate by giving them parts to clap and melodies to sing, which the audience (having caught on that the earnestness wasn’t a trick) enthusiastically obliged.
From then on, the audience was hooked, enjoying antics with the aforementioned werewolf hat, goofy dances and general glee. The stage show was enough to endear an attendee, but the fact that they played knockout tunes made the set impossible to not love. From “Own Stunts” to “Swimming” to “Board Games,” they blew through their tunes with perfection. The vocals were spot-on, the instruments sounded perfect, and the timing was precise. The band did not let their gleeful antics get in the way of their musicianship at all.
Instead, it seemed that the antics were an overflow of their musicianship; they just played that way. On “Board Games,” Andrea set up a tom and a snare, which she walloped with bouncy exuberance. When she played her cello, she did so with finesse and excitement. Micah, although not exuberant in his motions, played the whole set with a dry wit that kept the crowd in stitches. Trevor, unfortunately, was back in the shadows most of the time, but he did provide “ooo”s for the “spirit of the werewolf,” when it “flew” off Andrea’s head at the end of the song. I use quotation marks only because I know no other way to convey the ideas.
In short, Breathe Owl Breathe’s quiet, introspective folk songs translated into glorious, gleeful spectacles live. It was impossible to dislike the set, mostly because BOB was having so much fun doing what they were doing. Their energy was infectious, and it made for one of the most memorable sets I’ve ever seen. I’m sad I didn’t bring my camera. I’m sad I didn’t bring all my friends. These errors will be corrected next time.
It’s fitting that The Mountain Goats‘ latest album, The Life of the World to Come, features songs exclusively titled after Bible references. (“Genesis 3:23,” “1 John 4:16,” “Ezekiel 7 And The Permanent Efficacy Of Grace,” etc.) The inspired fervor with which I adhere to these music makers notches one step below religious.
I have now seen John Darnielle and co. three times, each time alone. This is because I have found five people who even like the band, much less love them. This is not for lack of trying; I have tried to get almost every one of my friends to listen to them. Their responses, even when listening to the most accessible of tracks, range from kind ambivalence to undisguised disgust.
It is somewhat disheartening, to say the least. Not that I can hold it against anyone; Darnielle’s voice is unusual, there are catchier songs in the world, and the lyrics are erudite. The band will never be confused for an All-American Rejects knock-off. The songs take some work to get used to, and that’s just not what most people look for in music. It doesn’t even have the residual side effect of rocking that hard, which excludes fans of stately rock like The National plays.
It’s a tough sell.
That’s where the semi-religious fervor comes in, for those who invest in the Mountain Goats see returns in spades. With 500+ songs (no, really), Mr. Darnielle is one of the most prolific songwriters I’ve ever heard of. Even though many of them are little stories as opposed to confessionals (which only appeared later in his so-far 20 years of recording), a full and developed psyche is on display in musical form. It’s not always the kindest, cleanest, most organized or loveliest persona that emerges, but it’s pretty thorough.
That connection to the lyrics ties people to the Mountain Goats once they’re in. Knowing the Mountain Goats’ discography is the closest I can ever get to knowing someone I don’t actually know. But it’s not just any person I don’t know: he’s a passionate, flawed, wild, interesting, intelligent, crafty individual. John Darnielle seems like a dude who you’d want to know.
That’s expressly why I’ve avoided meeting him. I’m sure he’s different in person than he is in his songs, and that would be disappointing at this point. So I’ll keep to his songs.
So I go up to his shows alone, because that’s the closest I’ll ever be to the persona that his songs create. It’s like having coffee with an old friend that you know has changed. You’re going to tell the same old stories, and it’s gonna be awesome, as long as you just skirt the surface of what’s happening now.
The ACM@UCO Performance Lab, where the Mountain Goats played recently, is pretty tight. It provided a lot of space for people to spread out and gave the Mountain Goats a pretty big stage. (I’m used to seeing them at Opolis, so anything more than matchbox-size is big in my mind.) The Goats did not disappoint, throwing down a set composed of mostly old tunes, with only a few new ones interspersed.
While every MG set is great because I love them so much, this one was marked by two sad circumstances: Darnielle broke the piano’s sustain pedal in the first song, and he didn’t feel 100 percent health-wise. This turned some songs into alternate versions (“Dance Music” was played at about half-speed without the piano leading, which made it explicitly not dance music, which was very confusing). “No Children,” which hangs on the jaunty piano line, was a little subdued, but it is what it is. Some days don’t go your way.
Honestly, it didn’t really matter what was played. I wasn’t specifically there to hear anything (although “Hast Thou Considered the Tetrapod” and the ultra-obscure “Waving at You” were pretty amazing, as I’d never heard either live). I was going because I get the songs. I haven’t heard all of them, but I relate to the passion and sentiments behind 75% of MG music (excluding songs about the alpha couple, as I’m not an alcoholic). And it’s hard to find anyone that you relate to 75% of the time.
Even if it’s a slightly unreal persona constructed of songs, I’ll take that. And I’ll keep going to Mountain Goats shows.
photos/Stephen Carradini, Oct. 26, 2006. Opolis, Norman, OK.