No man knows / The hour or the day / But the mark is gonna be visible / From several blocks away – Mark On You
I remember the first time seeing John Darnielle performing at the one place I found that he was performing — up I-95 to Philadelphia and at the Khyber Pass — nearly 25 years ago. It was a little harder back then to find out when touring bands were in town, so Philly was just “up the road a ways.” With just a guitar and one heck of a voice, he immediately impressed me with the force of those songs — sung with an intensity only hinted at in cassette tapes.
Fast forward to this past Sunday, in front of a sold-out crowd at the Baltimore Soundstage, Darnielle’s voice sounded better than ever along with an amazing band of long-time bandmates, Matt Douglas on guitar / keyboards / saxophone, Peter Hughes on bass guitar, and Jon Wurster on drums.
Kicking off the set with “Aulon Raid” from the back-to-basics release Songs for Pierre Chuvin (created using the same model Panasonic RX-FT500 tape recorder as his earliest releases), The Mountain Goats set the stage (no pun intended) on Sept. 4 for a two-hour set that included several songs from the newly released Bleed Out. But these songs, as all great songs, performed live move beyond the memories of those recordings and have their own fire — each one feeling new in the hands of this band.
The songs in The Mountain Goats catalogue over the years have had a storytelling quality, but those songs have taken on a more personal narrative approach in recent years. Bleed Out, though, is filled with the type of stories that you find in the world of espionage, hired guns, and action movies that make for exciting tunes. And this was clearly a band having fun on this night, as John bounced from one side of the stage to the next, playing off of Peter and Matt and with smiles in abundance.
“I have a schtick that I do before the song we play after this one that concerns Evangelical churches…,” Darnielle explained, introducing “Mark On You,” as growing up in the Catholic church and that feeling you get when walking into a Protestant church that you will somehow be transformed into taking on that particular brand of Christianity — a sentiment that, I have to admit, I’ve felt before. I think, for me, that’s part of the connection I have with Darnielle’s music. There’s a familiarity that’s sometimes very specific but general enough that anyone can gravitate toward those sentiments.
Stream “Mark On You” by The Mountain Goats on YouTube:
Right before the band stepped off the stage, leaving John Darnielle to perform solo, the band played the old trade union anthem, “Solidarity Forever,” created by Ralph Chaplin, a song that had nearly everyone in the place singing “solidarity forever, solidarity forever, and the union makes us strong,” along with Darnielle as he was accompanied by Matt Douglas on saxophone.
Darnielle then, as he often has done during his live sets, performed just himself and guitar, including an older song I hadn’t heard in ages, “Going to Queens,” which brought me back to that time in college playing Sweden late at night when I knew I had to be up at some unholy hour for class but having to hear it through to the end before I dozed off.
Watch the official music video for “Training Montage” by The Mountain Goats on YouTube:
As the band rejoined John Darnielle onstage, things started back off slowly but then heated up finishing with a crescendo of the older “This Year,” which had taken on a different kind of meaning during the Covid-19 pandemic — ending with the entire audience shouting along to “I am gonna make it through this year if it kills me!” The band finished with a great encore, ending with the recent single, “Training Montage.”
The Mountain Goats continue their tour through the US and then off to Europe, and it’s a show not to miss!
Make You Suffer
First Few Desperate Hours
Corsican Mastiff Stride
Bones Don’t Rust
Mark on You
John Darnielle Solo
Island Garden Song
The Hot Garden Stomp
Going to Queens
In Memory of Satan
The Diaz Brothers
Woke Up New
Damn These Vampires
Prowl Great Cain
You or Your Memory
The Slow Parts on Death Metal Albums
Up the Wolves
Jazz No Children
Here are more photos of The Mountain Goats performing at the Baltimore Soundstage on Sept. 4, 2022. All photos copyright and courtesy of David LaMason.