The Mountain Goats gave a double encore performance this Friday, to the delight of a sell-out crowd at the 9:30 Club. Touring to promote All Eternals Deck (which drops on March 29), the band played a healthy mix of new material, old material, and even a song about which frontman John Darnielle commented, “If this song had been an infant when it was written, then it could vote now.”
For anyone unacquainted with Darnielle, he looks a bit like a cross between Kevin Bacon and John Lennon, and he plays with the goofy enthusiasm of Paul McCartney during the early British Invasion. Shaking about on stage like one might imagine an ostrich dances (turns out they dance pretty weird), he strummed his all black acoustic guitar with the enthusiasm and vigor of someone who’s just finished a bottle of wine (an accomplishment I think he was honing in on). His stage presence was phenomenal, and it was blatantly clear that he loves what he does as well as anyone on the planet.
The masses were tame as far as 9 30 Club crowds go, a refreshing hodgepodge of young and old, hipster and nerd. But when the band played classics like “This Year” from 2005’s The Sunset Tree, they got the crowd to rock out and sing along. In fact, when the crowd joined him in the first few words of a song when he wasn’t expecting it, Darnielle stepped back and mouthed “oh boy” with a big ol’ grin on his face. In between songs he harkened back to the band’s halcyon days more than once, recounting tales of tours in Europe with the loquacious precision of Oscar Wao. And although Darnielle is forty-four, the performance proved that The Mountain Goats are hardly past their prime.
Their new material seemed less playful than usual, more emotionally focused, and slightly more fully orchestrated. It’s tough to judge an album by a smattering of new songs played live for one of the first times, but while nothing can match their work during the mid-oughts, the set showed promise. Of course, it wasn’t all new material for the show. The rest of the band even left the stage for four or five songs, leaving just Darnielle and his guitar to belt out some of the ballads that garnered attention in his Claremont years. His vocal precision had him bleating precisely like he does on albums, and the band as a whole made some generally quiet, reflexive music absolutely engaging throughout the ninety minute show.
The band worked in some covers during the encores (among them a number by indie rockers Silkworm and “The Sign” by Ace of Base), and Darnielle wasn’t shy to share with the crowd his frustration with bands who plan out their encores before shows, writing a song like “The Sweater Song” (Darnielle’s example) onto their setlist, as though it were guaranteed they’d be called back for an encore. In The Mountain Goats’ case, after two earsplitting pleas for encores on Friday night, I find it hard to believe that Darnielle would ever really question the inexorability of a Mountain Goats encore.
Opener Megafaun, sometimes classified as freak folk, played a beautiful set. The three band mates looked like a normal dude, Sam Beam, and Jesus Christ, respectively (and respectfully). When they harmonized all three at once it sounded every bit as ethereal as a combination of Fergie and Jesus, and when they had the balcony and floor harmonizing together with the band, I learned that Mountain Goats fans can sing pretty damn well. Megafaun very much deserves to headline, and the fact that I’ve relegated them to this final footnote of a paragraph is a testament to the stage presence of one Mr. John Darnielle. For a second, I think he even took on the shape of a unicorn.
Check out the setlist here.
–Adam Greenberg, c0-host dc ba (Mondays 9-10pm)