John Darnielle is probably one of the nicest musicians I’ve spoken to. When I saw him on stage at the Corner Hotel last week fronting his band the Mountain Goats, I was reminded why. He is not a sullen, long-haired, skinny jeans and flannel-wearing douche that thinks he’s the bees knees of modern music. Instead, he has a respectable haircut, plain clothes and wears glasses. What’s more, when he plays, his face lights up like a coin-spewing pokies machine.
Yes, his music is fab and he has been described by Rolling Stone magazine as the best American lyricist that isn’t a rapper. His songs tell wonderfully detailed stories and his music is simple and unpretentious. But, the best thing about the Mountain Goats performance is their obvious enthusiasm – and Darnielle’s witty crowd banter.
When a punter yelled out after the second song that he wanted to hear No Children, Darnielle laughed. No way, he argued, would he play No Children that early in the set. “That would be like going to a Bruce Springsteen concert and hearing Glory Days third!” he chuckled.
Instead, we were treated to some songs of the Mountain Goats newest album, Life Of The World To Come. These bible-themed tunes are expressive and poignant and although I know them intimately, it was so much better seeing them live. Again, it was the sight of the Mountain Goats passion that lent the songs a new element. Also, Darnielle generally gave a spiel about what each one was written about, which helped him tell the stories through the music.
For a brief period in the middle of the set, the other two band members vacated the stage and left Darnielle alone on the keyboard (he switched between guitar and keyboard throughout the show). He played a few of his more somber tunes before the band returned to the stage once more. And, towards the end of the set, they played This Year, my favourite Mountain Goats track.
From the autobiographical album Sunset Tree, This Year is a powerfully uplifting song of resilience. It was followed by No Children, which was met by ecstatic applause and crowd participation as everyone sang along to the well-known and loved tune.
After two encores, the house lights were finally turned on and I was dismayed that the show was over. However, I did discover that although I loved their music, I believe the Mountain Goats to be better performers because of their on-stage enthusiasm. So, a note to all musicians – don’t underestimate the power of crowd interaction.
This review was first published in Beat magazine.