Storytime with the MOUNTAIN GOATS live in Vancouver

I don’t know how I’ve managed to not see the Mountain Goats live until 2019. It feels like I should somehow turn in my Indie Rock Club Card. So I’m making up for lost time, and making amends by buying a 1980s-style Mountain Goats velcro wallet from the merch table. Contained within it this an even better card:

So this will have to do. This club sounds more fun, anyway.

And it was.

John Darnielle’s songs are decades worth of wonderful. He is a portrait artist, capturing ethos, pathos and logos in short vignettes, telling wry stories about everyday – and not-so-everyday – people, quirky moments in time.  There are few songwriters like him in the world; his lyrics are funny and smart, and I’ve always respected his work. Not to mention the song titles. OMG, the Mountain Goats’ song titles. 14/10.

But never having seen them live, I hadn’t really understood just how CHARMING the songs could feel live. Not just because of the skill of the musicians on stage delivering them – Superchunk/Bob Mould/Goats drummer Jon Wurster, bassist Peter Hughes andmulti-instrumentalist Matt Hughes – because there was plenty of that. But the charm came in the gentle joy that Darnielle brought to each. Looking much like a high-school principal who secretly has a really fantastic 1970s metal record collection, Darnielle smiled often, clasped his hands to his chest with delight, shared witty banter, and ran through 25 career-spanning tracks for a truly appreciative crowd. And it just all felt so WARM.

Starting with “An Antidote to Strychnine” then moving to the In League With Dragons‘ “Younger” (and also, a bit later “In League With Dragons” itself), a highlight of the first section of the set came with “Sax Rohmer #1” – for which the crowd ignited, and bellowed back the “AND I AM COMING HOME TO YOUs….” with glee. It sounded stronger than the original, somehow. Darnielle’s voice felt more confident, and the song more anthemic, and there was a lot of love in the room at that time.

There was a John and Matt duo moment, too, on “Wear Black” and solo moments for “The Recognition Scene.” My favourites, however, were in the not one, but two songs about Mr. John Osborne (“you know him as Ozzy”): the first-time-live-on-this-tour “Song for Black Sabbath’s Second North American Tour,” and the newer “Passaic 1975”, a fabulous yarn, we’re told, about how Ozzy once missed a show because he was passed out…in the wrong hotel room and how he just wants everyone to get high.

But before that, another “deep cut” and magic moment. “Can you do me a favour?” Darnielle asked. “It’s a big favour. Can you pretend you’re in a field, no not a field, but some foothills, a forest, a sylvan forest.” [Did he just use word “sylvan” on stage?Swoon!] “And you’re a feral beast. Now, can you howl?”

The room did howl. And out came the thrashy “Werewolf Gimmick”, urgent with that fabulous throw-the-horns chorus: “Nameless bodies in unremembered rooms/Know how a man becomes a beast when the wolfbane blooms!” Simply so good.

In the encore, more on-theme goodies: “Animal Mask,” “Up the Wolves,” and “Possum by Night.” “Going Invisible 2” ended it all, and I could hear the words of a male fan behind whisper me, “He’s just so…charming.”

Indeed. And so I headed off in the night, an Official Recruiter for the Band With Songs About Divorce and Vampires…and wolves and Black Sabbath and spent gladiators. It’s a better card to carry, anyway.\m/

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