Live review: The Mountain Goats @ the Gothic TheatreBy Billy Thieme, Lisa Kennedy and Lisa Kennedy | June 18th, 2010 | No Comments »
Denver was treated to an unusually dapper, even jocular, performance by John Darnielle last Tuesday night at the Gothic, much to the fans’ collective (but welcome) surprise. Hell, the literary and all too often dry and straightforward leader of the Mountain Goats alternated personalities from a manic 6-year-old afflicted with a near amphetamine-fueled case of H.D.A.D. to an erudite comedian performing a homecoming in front of wild, adulatory fans.
And the musical portion of the show was also damned stellar.
Over more than two hours, Darnielle led his touring trio through about 20 songs, and performed another four in a solo interlude toward the middle of the evening. When all three were onstage, Darnielle nearly always played guitar — barefoot throughout — but took a seat behind the keyboards for a few tunes. Meanwhile, drummer Jon Wurster brilliantly kept the beat (“If you see another one with more skill in any aspect of rock n’ roll, you’re lying!” Darnielle quipped in warm conversation with a front row fan at one point) and bassist Peter Hughes pounded and sculpted a brilliant low end.
Surprisingly, and simultaneously satisfyingly, the trio wandered over their repertoire wildly throughout the set, and played more than a few songs that have only ever been available on cassette or vinyl, from their early boombox recording days, and didn’t focus merely on the recent years of more polished and less militantly lo-fi recordings.
Highlights included “You or Your Memory,” the beautifully heartbreaking “Wild Sage,” “The Day the Aliens Came,” “Going to Georgia” and “Your Belgian Things,” among others. His solo set included a haunting version of “Surrounded,” from “Moon Colony Bloodbath” (a collaboration with John Vanderslice about events going awry at a human organ harvesting colony on the moon), as well as verses from a song Darnielle claimed to have started during the recording of “We Shall All Be Healed” and never finished (destined never to be finished, by his own admission).
After a thoroughly satisfying performance, the trio left the stage only to return for two encores that included some of Mountain Goats “hits” (such that they are) like “No Children,” “Ezekiel” and “Houseguest.” The band closed the show with a rousing version of “The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton,” finally stalking off the stage amid roars of approval from the half-filled house.
As spectacular as the music was, it was Darnielle’s easy charm, warmth and humor that propelled this show to one that will remain fresh for quite some time in Denver memory. From admonishing potential cellphone videographers and warning that he “reserved the right to kick anyone recording with [his] barefeet,” to becoming lost in swirling stories about circumstances behind songs, Darnielle seemed genuinely interested in partaking in his audience’s world as more than just a troubadour. His mood was infectious enough to win over all of the jaded indie hipsters and aging folkies alike in this crowd, and more than likely won him some new fans.
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Joe McCabe is a Denver photographer and a regular contributor to Reverb. Check out his website.