44. "Ethiopians!"
February 7th, 2021

The Mountain Goats - Ethiopians (Live at The Swedish American Hall, San Francisco, February 22nd 2020)
(File under: music, san francisco, encores)

Listen: archive.org/details/tMG2020-02-22/27_Ethiopians.flac

“What’s better in an encore than a song that was never released publically, and at least half the room hasn’t heard?”

Earlier this week on one of my nightly neighborhood walks, I heard the sound of a fiddle. Driven by my inner bloodhound, I turned on the ball of my foot and stalked down a dark avenue to discover two people, concealed by a curtain, playing music on their porch. A delivery driver had turned off his engine and was sat listening with his door open. We nodded to each other, two masked strangers at the most well-attended show in Seattle since the start of lockdown.

There’s something magical about live music in an unexpected context, particularly outdoors. The very first issue of this newsletter talked about this exact thing. It charges the air, makes things feel cinematic, significant. I sat down on a staircase across the street and listened for almost half an hour. I took a short video.

As I walked home I realised that I hadn’t heard live music in almost a year. The last show I saw before COVID was John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats playing the last of a 3-night solo run at the Swedish American Hall. It also happened to be the last show I saw before leaving San Francisco, so imagine my excitement when I discovered a diligent fan had (with permission) recorded the entire show in terrific quality and uploaded it to archive.org.

Spreadsheet of shows

The spreadsheet that I keep of every live show I’ve attended (because of course that’s something that exists), tells me I’ve seen the Mountain Goats at least a dozen times, but I was by no measure the biggest fan in the room that night. Those were the people who, when somebody requested the song ‘Ethiopians’ (an unreleased and rarely-played track recorded for the album Tallahassee), laughed incredulously, then shouted out the lyrics to the second verse when Darnielle forgot them.

I can’t believe I have a pristine record of a show I couldn’t possibly have understood the significance of at the time, a recording of me and a couple hundred strangers belting out, ‘Good things never last/Bad things never die’ shortly before the world tried to prove it to us. I can’t wait to sing with a crowd again on the other side of all this and make a strong argument to the contrary.

Dept. of Enthusiasm is a monthly email from me, Jez Burrows. You can read some past issues, or sign up below.