As blue strobe lights flashed and the loud speakers played thrash music from an anonymous metal band, The Mountain Goats stepped onto the stage for their second of three sold out shows at New York City’s Bowery Ballroom. For the uninitiated, this incongruous introduction might prove alarming, but veteran fans will know that the band have made a tradition of introducing themselves in this ostentatious way. This hyperliterate indie rock band—which occasionally adds and subtracts members from many locales—centers around California-born vocalist/guitarist John Darnielle.
The band opened with “Liza Forever Minnelli,” a nostalgic ballad from their new album All Eternals Deck (Merge). It was the exact evening of their 16th album release—March 29. The album maintains the core indie rock elements and John Darnielle’s intelligent lyrics that garnered the band a loyal following, but the introduction of Jon Wurster (of Superchunk) on drums provides a subtle new twist. The complexity of Wurster’s drumming evolves the music beyond the major chord progressions that had previously characterized Darnielle’s work.
Throughout the set, Darnielle confided to the audience that he always goes a little crazy upon the release of an album, but assured everyone that this time he was doing quite well. His witty banter continued as he made light of the difficult stories and situations prevalent in the songs he’s written. Before the band retrieved “Home Again Garden Grove” from their archive, he told the story of his black tar heroin-addicted friend’s trip to jail with the comedic deftness of a pro.
Halfway through the set, the rest of The Mountain Goats left Darnielle to a brief solo set as he joked about not remembering any of the chords to the songs in his vast back catalog. Audience members shouted words of encouragement as he fumbled through the opening of “You Were Cool,” an unreleased track. He sang in his signature nasal twang, “This is a song with the same four chords / I use most of the time / When I’ve got something on my mind.” With the addition of the newer members—drummer Wurster and keyboardist Yuval Semo—older songs evolved to match the intricacy of the band’s current, more multi-instrumental music. Darnielle and veteran Mountain Goat bassist Peter Hughes remarked often on the “world-class talent” they had incorporated into the band, adding that they were more willing to play older songs with the addition of Wurster and Semo.
The Mountain Goat's two-hour set covered a lot of territory from their sixteen-album repertoire. They ended their third encore with “The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton,” a stark narrative from one of their earliest albums. The band’s departure mirrored their entrance—fans theatrically thrashed around with their hands forming the sign of the horns, singing the lyrics “Hail Satan!” [Aurora Montgomery]
photo: Jessica Hughes