Rather than playing songs from their most recent album, the night’s focus was on fan favorites.
When it comes to favorite bands, I often avoid or fear concerts. Nothing’s worse than watching your idols fall apart right in front of your eyes. So to say that I approached The Mountain Goats concert with a touch of apprehension is perhaps an understatement. Fortunately, they did not disappoint.
The opener for the concert, al Riggs, who derive their name from their lead singer and frontman, Al Riggs, was exactly the kind of band who you would expect to open for The Mountain Goats, with a gritty, melancholic sound (their song “Local Honey” was featured on “Welcome to Night Vale,” if that gives you any frame of reference). Many of their songs seemed to be about having anxiety and other sad-boy-type emotions. “Let’s Have a Room” in particular was a true-to-life description of having an anxiety attack at a party. Their set concluded with a drum solo that went on for at least two minutes and was the the best part of their entire set.
By the time John Darnielle and Co. arrived to the stage, the crowd had grown considerably. It was the perfect amount of people: just enough to feel full, but not uncomfortable. The Mountain Goats started their set with a cover of the Sex Pistols song “Holidays in the Sun,” as a fun nod to the fact that the Sex Pistols famously played at Cain’s Ballroom. Although the tour is technically for the latest Mountain Goats album, “Goths,” they only played one song off of the album, opting to play fan favorites instead.
With such a large discography (16 albums), there was a wealth of songs from which to pull. From the autobiographical “Hast Thou Considered the Tetrapod” to the unnecessarily violent but exceedingly fun “Foreign Object,” Darnielle took us on a tour of his traumatic childhood to his troubled youth. The one song played from the most recent album, “Wear Black,” Darnielle explained, was written about when he was having blackouts from substance abuse and decided to try to go back to high school, but he didn’t know how much school he had missed or when any of his classes were. It was a personal moment and highlight of the show. The Mountain Goats’ talent is perhaps their most critiqued quality: the absolute rawness of their sound. But on a stage, it was perfect.
The concert concluded with not one but two encores. The first encore ended with the most well-known Mountain Goats song, “This Year,” a song that was my anthem during senior year of high school. It was a near-sacred moment, howling along with John Darnielle, singing, “I’m gonna make it through this year, if it kills me.” The second encore finished the night with the other most popular Mountain Goats track, “No Children,” a song about a couple in a toxic relationship who are about to get a divorce. It stands as a stark contrast to the life affirming “This Year,” the chorus ringing out, “I hope you die. I hope we both die.”
In the spring of last year, I was privileged enough to see John Darnielle speak on a book tour for his short novel “Universal Harvester.” Although it was obvious that Darnielle was more interested in talking about his book (a very good book, might I add), the Q&A session at the end inevitably turned to one about the Mountain Goats. Darnielle mentioned “No Children” with a bit of bewilderment towards its popularity. “These are not good people!” he said, with an obvious disdain for those who tell him they connect with the song, or even worse — get married to it.
It was surreal to close out the night with “No Children.” Waves of people screaming the lyrics as Darnielle bleated the melody. Toward the end of the song, Darnielle held out the microphone to the audience, letting us complete the lyrics. “And I hope you blink before I do,” he sang, then proffered the mic. “I hope I never get sober!” screamed the crowd in reply. I could see Darnielle’s reaction, for a split second, a laugh somewhere between condescension and pity. He’s left this song behind. But of course, I sang along too.