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all words and photos: Joel Mittleman

As I was getting ready to go to Friday night’s Mountain Goats show at the 9:30 Club, a strange fact was brought to my attention: Some people, even close friends of mine, don’t love the Mountain Goats.  Not because of John Darnielle’s unusual singing voice or the “militantly lo-fi” aesthetic that long defined his sound.  No, some people simply “never got into him.”


For all those people who don’t already know and love the Mountain Goats, Darnielle offered a perfect introduction on Friday.  He played for 25 songs and two hours.  But, in my mind, to understand Darnielle’s appeal as a songwriter, all you really need to do is watch  the song that came ten songs into the set (generously caught by youtuber user drudysa).

Standing alone onstage, he began by self-effacingly admitting “This is a song with the same four chords, I use most of the time, when I’ve got something on my mind.”  As it continues, the song (“You Were Cool,” unreleased and first performed in 2010), crystallizes so much of what has built Darnielle’s following since his first boom box recordings in the early 90s.  It’s funny.  It’s optimistic but acerbic, poetic but plainspoken.  It wears its wisdom on its sleeve, offering gems like “It’s good to be young, but let’s not kid ourselves, it’s better to pass on through those years and come out the other side.” Like so many of his songs, “You Were Cool” is a kind of misfit ballad, written by and for someone not quite at ease in their scene: “People were mean to you, but I always thought you were cool,” he concludes, “clicking down the concrete hallways in your spiked heels back in high school.”



Whatever high school traumas the band or their fans may be working through, they found some catharsis Friday night.  The evening felt less like a concert and more like a celebration of the band: of their excellent new album, their growing critical recognition, and the role they’ve played in all our lives.  The night’s openers, Megafaun, set the tone by immediately geeking “Guys, you should be really excited.  They sound so good right now.” Megafaun was right.

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The set drew largely from All Eternals Deck, released today on Merge Records, with the full band playing eight of the album’s thirteen songs.  These were a richly orchestrated affair, accompanied by the near constant singing of an audience that already knew the words from online leaks and an NPR stream.  Beyond promoting their new album, the band was there to please, combining shout-along favorites with deep cuts from Darnielle’s 500+ song catalogue.  Of course, you can’t please all the people all the time: I can’t think of any other show where there were as many requests being shouted.


After literally every song, someone was shouting for something (I personally wanted to hear “It Froze Me,” but I wasn’t getting my hopes up).  Despite these unrequited calls, no one seemed disappointed by the band’s bias toward new material.  Unlike similarly prolific artists, the Mountain Goats’ new releases just keep getting better and better.  Even the most hardened fan of “the old” Mountain Goats has to be moved by the beauty of songs like “Never Quite Free.”


Opening the night was the North Carolina trio Megafaun.  Though Pitchfork (favorably) describes their sound as “affixing Appalachian folk to classic rock, ambient, avant garde, and a kind of musical entropy that pushes many of their songs into sputtering, oddly compelling noise,” I’d simply say that they were fun, they reminded me of the Avett Brothers or Fleet Foxes, and they seemed like the type of dudes I’d want to have a beer with on a porch somewhere.   And, fun fact about Megafaun: their last band, DeYarmond Edison, featured one additional member who would later move to a cabin, break all of our hearts, and provide unlikely vocal samples for one of the greatest hip hop albums of all time.  So that’s cool.

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If, like some of the people in my life, you’ve managed to not yet get into the Mountain Goats, don’t lose hope.  It’s not too late.  My advice?  Youtube the setlist below.  It was seriously great.

  1. Liza Forever Minnelli
  2. Broom People
  3. Estate Sale Sign
  4. Dinu Lipatti’s Bones
  5. Damn These Vampires
  6. Birth of Serpents
  7. Minnesota
  8. Woke Up New
  9. Island Garden Song
  10. You Were Cool
  11. Orange Ball of Hate
  12. Outer Scorpion Squadron
  13. Beautiful Gas Mask
  14. Seeing Daylight
  15. Family Happiness
  16. For Charles Bronson
  17. Prowl Great Cain
  18. Never Quite Free
  19. Plain (Silkworm cover)
  1. This Year
  2. No Children
  3. The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton
    Encore 2:
  1. The Sign (Ace of Base cover)
  2. Southwood Plantation Road
  3. Going to Georgia