I’m way late to the party when it comes to The Mountain Goats but my excuse is that the musical road that brought me to John Darnielle and company was very long and winding. To say the least. It finally took me to 9:30 Club to see the band recently.
My path began over a decade ago with the seminal HBO series, “Six Feet Under” and a scene that featured an unfamiliar song with the repeated refrain, “I need you so much closer.” Years later, my teenage son played Death Cab for Cutie for me and that repeated refrain burned into my brain was from the song, “Transatlanticism.”
As I began exploring DCFC’s back catalog, I chanced upon a live recording of the band’s leader, Ben Gibbard, where he asked the crowd, “Do you guys know The Mountain Goats? Well this is one of their songs.” (As an aside, by this time I was way into “Breaking Bad”). He then played “Palmcorder Yajna” that although on solo guitar was somewhat subdued, the lyrics describing tweaker paranoia and menacing meth mania came through loud and clear. Plus the chords were easy and I could bang it out on guitar.
I became a Mountain Goats fan for life.
See The Mountain Goats perform “Palmcorder Yajna” at San Francisco’s Independent on YouTube:
My first opportunity to experience a slightly manic, but always smart and engaging, John Darneille performance was at Falls Church’s State Theatre back in 2016. He and Matt Douglas performed as a duo and I’ve waited patiently to see a full band show ever since on the strength of that concert.
The Mountain Goats at the State Theatre, 2016
My chance came last Friday, April 26, as The Mountain Goats opened their In League with Dragons Tour at the 9:30 Club with a slightly bumpy (it was, after all, opening night) but hugely satisfying two-hour performance. The night’s set list drew mainly from the new album, In League with Dragons (Merge Records), also released on April 26. And rightly so, for the new songs continue to exhibit John’s knack for writing catchy alt-rock melodies coupled with humorous, clever lyrics that you can’t not sing along to.
Stream In League with Dragons by The Mountain Goats on Spotify:
The show started late. The players: Peter Hughes (bass, vocals), Jon Wurster (drums), Matt Douglas (keyboards, guitars, saxophone, vocals), and John (guitars, lead vocals). They individually strolled onto the relatively unadorned stage to the massive cheering of the sold-out crowd. A Mountain Goats show relies on the strength of the songs, impeccable performances, and the force of John’s engaging, witty personality and distinctive voice. Hence, the subdued lighting and simple “The Mountain Goats: Into the Breach Once More” hanging backdrop provided the only visual complement to the music.
Every song seemed to be a singalong, from the opening, just released, “Done Bleeding” to the anthemic closer, “This Year,” the entire crowd was enraptured. If it’s possible to experience a show where every song was a highlight, a Mountain Goats concert would be it. “The Coroner’s Gambit” was introduced as how the song was originally conceived and then performed that way. The title track from the new album is an instant classic: [from The Mountain Goats’ website] “I am earnestly hoping that a new genre called “dragon noir” will spring from the forehead of nearly two years’ work on these songs, but, if not, I am content for this to be the sole example of the style.”
See the official video for “In League With Dragons” by The Mountain Goats on YouTube:
John’s three-song solo set was sublime, if too short, and included a shout-out to America’s greatest composer, Duke Ellington. The live debut of “Clemency for the Wizard King” hushed the crowd as the song’s delicate melody and Matt’s gentle lead guitar left us floating in dreamlike wonder, and moving John so that he motioned Matt closer to kiss him on the cheek. For those who care to search, a video of the performance is available on Youtube.
The main set ended with another exuberant crowd sing-along, “Up the Wolves.” After only the briefest of pauses, the band returned for the four-song encore that was a mini-set unto itself, ending with all of us declaring at the top of our lungs, “I am going to make it through this year if it kills me.”
Done Bleeding (live debut)
The Coroner’s Gambit (Original Take — live debut)
In League With Dragons
Sax Rohmer #1
For the Krishnacore Bands
Full band returns:
Waylon Jennings Live!
Clemency for the Wizard King (live debut)
Cadaver Sniffing Dog
Sicilian Crest (live debut)
Up the Wolves
Have to Explode
Possum by Night (live debut)
The Mountain Goats will be back in Baltimore on July 18. The show, however, is sold out. The Mountain Goats will be on tour across North America through September and Europe in the fall. Find tour info and more on the band’s website.
Here are some pictures of The Mountain Goats performing at 9:30 Club on April 26, 2019. All photos copyright and courtesy of Mark Caicedo.