John Darnielle played the first half of his Popfest set all by himself. He took requests. Lots. He played songs that had never been played live before. He told stories of how these songs came to be. He played songs that people were dying to hear, even though he couldn't remember all the parts. This made me really smile because who hasn't been to a show, yelled out their favorite song only to hear "sorry I can't" or "I don't remember how to play that one"? He said fuck it, and gave it a shot. Of course this meant stopping to field the audience for lyrics and chords. This give-and-take of the audience and John is part of the reason people like me are drawn to concerts in the first place. The audience was in a love/love relationship with John, and he could do no wrong.
After Podbop committed to covering Popfest, I went hunting down some live Mountain Goats MP3s to hear what I had to look forward to. One MP3 I found on Large Hearted Boy was a live version of No Children from a show in San Francisco this past June. The crowd chorused his lyrics on relationship advice beautifully. It gives me goose bumps listening to it. I was ecstatic when John began referencing this performance, explaining how he was sick and needed everyone's help when somebody requested this song. He then performed the song for us, giving Athens its chance to wail death wishes and lies of good wives unto the planet. It felt damn good.
His maniacle glares and energetic strumming were hypnotic. Finally, he brought out his friend and musician Perry Wright for some backup vocals and guitar. It's not worth much detail, as he really didn't contribute anything worthwhile to the performance. I'm hoping it was a personal favor of John's to get Perry's name out there, but he barely knew the chords and words to most of the songs that were performed. It didn't detract from the performance much since everyone's eyes were fixed on John, but he might as well have performed solo for the entire show. After a pseudo-ending, John and Perry returned for a three-song encore and promptly disappeared back stage.