Although I've seen a half dozen Mountain Goats shows, for some reason I never get around to writing them up. Sadly this one will be no different. I will, however, endeavour to share a very quick description.
The show began promptly at 7pm with a set from Denton, Texas's Baptist Generals. Or at least that's when the band took the stage â€“ the music didn't happen until after frontman Chris Flemmons relayed a long and rambling story that involved absent band members, tour vans, sinus congestion, road trips, and inner ear pain. The ultimate take away was that Flemmons was at less than full force, and the bar-made hot toddies may have been the only thing keeping him alive. With the groundwork laid, and acoustic guitar in hand, Flemmons then led his band through a 45-minute set of fractured lo-fi indie folk.
Despite the long opening set, I never got a handle on the band's songs as each began and ended in unexpected ways, and seldom conformed to established song structures. Although I may have been confused by the band, Flemmons had two brothers in arms in both an unidentified multi-instrumentalist and bassist Ryan Williams. The first provided accents from his small keyboard, effects pedals, iPad, acoustic guitar, and kick drum, the later provided depth (but not a rhythmic base) via his five-string electric bass and a guitarrÃ³n mexicano (the large six-string bass used by mariachi bands). While always interesting, I found the songs that grew organically and developed slowly to be the most enjoyable. The Mountain Goats' John Darnielle seemed to agree as well, rushing up to the stage to contribute backing vocals and occasionally mistimed percussion during one of the band's more conventional numbers.
It was a bit after 8pm when Darnielle took the stage for his own set. Although for many years Darnielle alone constituted The Mountain Goats, for the last decade his live shows have generally featured a full band. Since 2002 this has included bassist Peter Hughes as well as a rotating cast of 2nd guitarists and drummers (most recently Jon Wurster). For this tour, for the first time, The Mountain Goats would perform as a duo with Darnielle fronting the band while Hughes remained cooly out of the spotlight, providing bass, and only a modicum of backing vocals.
Over the course of the next 70 minutes, the band played a seventeen-song set that included few audibles, no crowd requests, and yet still drew from twenty years of material. "Love Love Love," "Woke Up New," and closing number "No Children" (one of the aforementioned deviations from the prepared setlist) drew the largest responses from the crowd, though the majority of the young audience sang along to every song no matter how minor or arcane. The heat drew Darnielle's ire throughout the evening, however the frontman was in high spirits, often providing elaborate, humorous, and enlightening details on each song's origins. Unlike previous sets, Darnielle traded his beaten acoustic guitar for keyboards several times during his performance, although Hughes made no movements, keeping to his rattling fretless, acoustic electric bass throughout the set.
When called back to the stage for a single encore, the duo performed "Ezekiel 7 and the Permanent Efficacy of Grace" followed by rarity "Pure Heat" that was first released in 1994 on the "Why You All So Thief" 7" (Sing Eunuchs). The later was inspired by the balmy club, but presented with the caveat that Darnielle wasn't even sure what key it was in, hadn't performed it for years, and had never performed it with Hughes. The result was, of course, thrilling for the die-hard fans who crave the deep cuts, yet mildly disappointing for the casual listeners who might have preferred to hear "This Year," "The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton," or "Dance Music" one more time.
After the set, Darnielle returned to the merchandise table that he had manned earlier in the evening, selling dozens of records and signing even more. It was an early show, ending around 10:15, yet I decided to head straight home, and promptly busy myself with things other than properly documenting this show. Sorry about that.