The Mountain Goats @ Barrowlands, Glasgow, 24 May

Cult favourites The Mountain Goats are in fine form at their biggest Scottish show yet

Live Review by Lewis Wade | 27 May 2024
  • The Mountain Goats live at St Luke's, Glasgow, 18 Nov

Following brilliant shows at The Art School (RIP) and Saint Luke's, The Mountain Goats get a serious upgrade with a Barrowlands show tonight. It's not quite sold out, but the reliable cult of John Darnielle obsessives are out in force, devoted to the trickster god who is met with a hero's welcome when he impishly emerges.

As is customary, the set draws from all over the past 30 years, mixing the classics with the wilfully obscure, but the band (the full four-piece tonight) are well drilled and can knock out turbo-charged rockers like Lovecraft in Brooklyn just as easily as sumptuous, baroque cuts like Dark in Here or The Slow Parts on Death Metal Albums. Matt Douglas on saxophone is a particular delight, adding a splash of extra flavour to counterpoint Darnielle's furious strumming.

Brilliant songs, immaculately performed are par for the course at a Mountain Goats show, but what really makes them special are the personalised Darnielle stories, intimate crowd interaction and the raw intensity of the performance. There is less between-song chat than usual tonight, though the short solo section of the show provides some tailored exposition (around the making of Tallahassee with Tony Doogan) along with a couple of rarities in Alpha Rats Nest and Going to Marrakesh (officially a cover of The Extra Lens, fka The Extra Glenns, the duo of Darnielle and Franklin Bruno). There's also the lo-fi, weirdo oldie, Alpha Omega and the never-to-be-released You Were Cool, the ultimate example of Darnielle seeing you and accepting you for the wonderful outsider you are.

Unfortunately, there isn't much crowd interaction and although the performance is plenty passionate, it never blurs the audience-performer line that past shows often did. This is partly to do with the venue – it's simply a bit too big for that, but also the band seem a little more professional and slick, which does wonders for the consistently high quality of music, but diminishes the potential for those spontaneous, once-in-a-lifetime moments The Mountain Goats can sometimes deliver.

When the full band return we're barrelling toward the hits at pace; Abandoned Flesh comes with a good quip about Robert Smith misunderstanding it, while Only One Way and Murder at the 18th St. Garage demonstrate the strength of last year's Jenny From Thebes. The superlative No Children is preceded by the song that inspired it (through hate), Lee Ann Womack's I Hope You Dance. No Children itself brings the cathartic release that only 2000+ people screaming “I hope we all die!” can, and is followed by This Year, another shout-a-long that requires the encore break for composures to be remastered.

There's no Heel Turn 2 this evening, but we are blessed with Up the Wolves for the evening's end, the only song really capable of scaling the heights of the No Children/This Year gut-punch. It's a brilliant closer to band together the ragtag misfit crowd that Mountain Goats shows always bring out of the woodwork.

Besides the fact that such a gargantuan back catalogue means you're never going to get a 'perfect' setlist, the only limiting factor tonight is the ineffably high bar that the band are saddled with. The Mountain Goats are true “this band will change your life” material, and even if tonight doesn't quite capture their full magic, it's still a performance of the highest quality.