Mountain Goats

Mountain Goats


I’ve been thinking all weekend about the horrors of the gig two nights ago at Le Bataclan, so it’s with mixed emotions that I head over to Gorilla to see one of my very favourite bands, The Mountain Goats. It’s a strange feeling to be going to a concert in the knowledge that those killed in Paris will never again have the pleasure and that some of the survivors will most likely have no desire to return to gigging any time soon. I truly love the music of tonight’s headliners, and I’d been excitedly looking forward to the gig since it was announced, but I’m struggling to really feel up for it. Again, it’s a strange feeling.

It’s probably a bit much to expect a band to give me back some hope for the future, or to make me feel any sense of positivity about the actions of people and governments that only seem to be fanning the flames, giving rise to more terrorism in the years to come. It’s 8:30pm and here I am with these heavy thoughts amongst an already packed crowd to greet our opener, Tamara Lindeman of The Weather Station. Reminding me of Joni Mitchell and Laura Marling, Lindeman’s accomplished guitar picking and voice easily find soothing melodies that keep the audience respectful and attentive throughout.

Beat The Champ, the latest Mountain Goats album, released in April, takes its theme from singer/songwriter/instrumentalist John Darnielle’s memories of his childhood wrestling hero and of watching matches on television in the 1970s. I always appreciate when bands extend their LP themes to the subsequent tours, and as we wait for the band to take to the stage I enjoy hearing the sounds of some excitable vintage TV commentary of a wrestling match and the rings of a bell that would signal the start of proceedings. Tonight is the fourth stop on the European leg of The Regional Heat Tour, and the band that emerges from backstage-right is the expected, modern-day MG line-up of Darnielle along with, on bass, Peter Hughes looking dapper in a tweed jacket and red tie, and, on drums, Jon Wurster, who I last saw behind a kit in Bob Mould’s band at the Academy a couple of years ago.

Making the band a four-piece tonight is Matt Douglas on sax, keys and electric guitar, adding a variety of textures and fills. The eerily tense and dramatic song ‘Stabbed to Death Outside San Juan’ starts us off, but its somber tones in the quiet room can’t keep the audience down for long. Darnielle is a wonderfully charismatic and articulate front man, and there’s a special moment part-way through when he appears to be sent into ecstasy by the sound of one of Douglas’ sax fills.

The Mountain Goats

The Mountain Goats

Beat The Champ, which is available as a 45 RPM 2xLP that I can highly recommend, dominates the opening part of the set, and includes the enthusiastically received ‘Foreign Object’  with its witty lyrics that have fun with the pre-match televised press-conference banter between wrestlers: “I personally will stab you in the eye with a foreign object!”

Ultimately, though, Darnielle’s songs that refer to wrestling make up but a tiny minority of his overall output, of course. Indeed there’s only really Robert Pollard that comes to my mind as a comparable songwriter in terms of the colossal back catalogue they have both amassed. The middle part of the set is Darnielle solo, be it on guitar or keyboard, playing some of his classic and more obscure tunes that are at times surreal and defiant (‘Billy the Kid’s Dream of the Magic Shoes’) and funny (‘Thank You Mario but Our Princess Is in Another Castle’). The latter song has a 5-minute spoken introduction from Darnielle that has the audience in stitches. Wow, this guy can really engage an audience. There are hints that this is a time for calling out requests; I suggest “Tetrapod!” to request a song, but no joy, and it seems like a hundred others yelled out something at the same time.

Oh, to have seen the band play at The Britons Protection on the first day of February, 2003. Darnielle refers to this gig that they apparently played, but alas I didn’t get into the band’s music until probably a couple of years later. If only the Silent Radio Gig Guide existed back then!

I’ve always found the song ‘Never Quite Free’ to have moments where it threatens to turn cheesy but never quite gets there. It’s actually one of my favourite MG songs, with a lovely melody, and it’s a joy to hear it live. As it is for the legendary ‘This Year’, which is a (probably autobiographical) tale of a reckless, drink-drive teenager arriving back home drunk and “ready for the bad things to come” from his abusive step-father. The song appears on The Sunset Tree album, for which the liner notes tell us to “never lose hope”, and, despite living under a cloud all weekend, deep down I don’t think I ever will. Thank you, John.

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Steve Jones

Apart from about five years in total, I've always lived in Manchester. Shame about the weather and lack of beach, but I do like it here. My all-time favourite gig would have to be The National at the Academy in about 2010, although I did get Matt Berninger's mic cable wrapped around my neck (that was a close one). My guilty pleasures include the music of Bruce Springsteen, and I also felt a bit bad for feeling such joy at seeing Counting Crows live in the early 2000s. I recommend Lifter Puller, a rather obnoxious and unpleasant-sounding band that I can't seem to get enough of, even though they are long disbanded. Amongst my Silent Radio gigs, I was blown away by John Murry. I'll let you know if anything tops that one.