Sound Checks

The Mountain Goats and Simon Joyner
Thursday, Jan. 21; the Side Door

John Darnielle -- the person -- seems to vanish the moment he strums the first chord of a song. His eyes glaze over, and then comes a thousand-yard stare as he channels his songs: "I know you're changing. Damn you. I know you're changing. God damn you for that." In his press photo, he looks blind because of this loaded vacancy in his eyes. John Darnielle is the Mountain Goats -- just him and a guitar -- and over the course of the decade he has released a half-dozen records that overflow with words and emotions. Darnielle is a bit of an eccentric in the kindest sense of the word. He celebrates the natural world with the excitement of a contestant on The Price is Right, loves language and loves to fiddle with it, stacking words and vibes on top of each other like bricks on a wall, until each word is firmly mortared in place. And though I can't do justice to a song by describing it -- you have to experience it, of course -- I can ask you to grab both my hands and look me in the eyes: Go see the Mountain Goats and Simon Joyner.

Simon Joyner wrote one of the saddest and most desperate songs I've ever heard on his debut LP, The Cowardly Traveller Pays His Toll (Sing, Eunuchs!). It's called "Address," and in it the narrator, talking on a phone, pleads with the person on the other end, unidentified both in name and gender, to "Just give me the address, just try to stay conscious." It's a mysterious song that evokes a whole world: Is this a suicide? If so, what's the relationship between the two? Where is this person, and why is he/she hiding? Throughout the song, Joyner pleads over and over: "Just give me the address" as a warbling, shaky violin traces out a melody. His most recent release is a double CD titled Yesterday, Tomorrow, and in Between (Sing, Eunuchs!), a reference, I assume, to Townes Van Zandt's High, Low and In Between; the release features members of Nashville's Lambchop (I had a dream a few months ago that I possessed a copy of it, then upon awakening was so convinced that I did that I searched the house. I don't have it yet, though). Highly recommended for fans of desperate songwriters. (RR)

Johnnie Johnson with Kelley Hunt and Mike Finnigan
Saturday, Jan. 23; the Sheldon

The St. Patrick Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping homeless people gain dignity and self-sufficiency, is holding its third annual benefit concert, and for the third consecutive year, local piano legend Johnnie Johnson will be headlining the event. This year's concert will also feature Kansas singer/pianist Kelley Hunt and her fine band -- with, as special guest, Hammond B-3 organ ace Mike Finnigan.

Hunt has built up a strong local following through her high-energy performances at Soulard Mardi Gras, the Union Station Rhythm & Roots concert series, the Sheldon and Off Broadway. And whenever Hunt's in town, it's a good bet that Johnson will be sitting in. Hunt will open the show with Finnigan and her band, then she and the other musicians will back up Johnson for the final set. It promises to be a hot evening of music benefiting a worthy cause.

Tickets are $25 in advance and $30 at the door. Special $65 patron tickets get you preferred seating, admittance to both a private preconcert tour of the Sheldon's art gallery and a postconcert reception with the musicians, and a copy of the highly attractive poster for the event. (TP)

Contributors: Roy Kasten, Terry Perkins