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Far from the herd

BY CAROLINE BERG | APRIL 03, 2009 7:30 AM

The Mountain Goats’ John Darnielle leaves the herd and joins long-time collaborator John Vanderslice in Iowa City tonight as part of the Mission Creek Festival.

The Mountain Goats’ John Darnielle has “Gone Primitive” on his latest tour. “The whole point of playing an acoustic guitar is not to unplug,” he said, referring to the tour’s slogan. “It’s to get raw and draw blood.”

Since the beginning of Mission Creek, the festival’s founder and President Andre Perry has tried to lure the Mountain Goats to perform in Iowa. “I think [Darnielle] does more with an acoustic guitar and a microphone than anybody else,” Perry said. “He tells these elaborate, really literate short stories through his lyrics.”

Darnielle’s imagination is a warehouse of material for his songs. Rather than burden people with his own personal drama, he prefers to tell tales of pulp spy fiction, imaginary cults, lake monsters, and other such mythical sagas. His list of subjects is long, but talking animals are usually incorporated.

Though the other members of the Mountain Goats won’t be in Iowa City for today’s 8 p.m. performance at the Mill, 120 E. Burlington, guitarist and vocalist John Vanderslice will accompany Darnielle on stage.

Vanderslice is commonly dubbed the nicest guy in indie rock, a believ Perry concurred with.

“I think it’s because he really knows how to treat his fans and put on a great show,” Perry said.
Vanderslice prefers to depict himself as “a sociopath who likes gardening and Frisbee golf.” His ultimate ambition is “to get rich and move to Scottsdale.”

Despite his propensity for wit and wisecracks, he is devoted to creating quality melodies fit to thoughtful lyrics. The self-proclaimed restless romantic is, not surprisingly, an expert in writing about love. “Too Much Time,” from his latest album, *Romanian Names*, focuses on a man keeping warm with a eucalyptus fire and lamenting over a bygone love.

Vanderslice and the Mountain Goats have enjoyed a merry friendship ever since their introduction in 2000. As owner of Tiny Telephone, a small production company in San Francisco, Vanderslice helped produce a number of the Mountain Goats’ albums. Darnielle and Vanderslice are collaborating on an upcoming concept album.

On their “Gone Primitive” tour, the two Johns are one step up from thumbing their ways across the country. Darnielle and Vanderslice have stripped themselves of their bandmates and, save for a pair of acoustic guitars, left all instruments at home. The elemental approach has made these rugged musicians stronger.

“We are getting paid in coconuts, flint, and DVDs of the canceled ABC sitcom ‘Cavemen,’ ” Vanderslice said.


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