The Mountain Goats @ The Art School, Glasgow, 9 Oct
Rarely do an artist and audience come together so seamlessly as they do tonight as John Darnielle trawls through a quarter-century of Mountain Goats classics
John Darnielle writes vivid, technicolour stories that are woven together to create songs that often deal with deeply personal issues of abuse, addiction and death. His gift, however, is in being able to turn bleak subject material into uplifting, relatable treatises that are also catchy as hell. The heavy topics and complex, layered songwriting provide a treasure trove of riches for any listener willing to delve deep enough.
More than 25 years in the business, 16 studio albums and a whole host of additional releases mean that Darnielle can pick liberally from a veritable smorgasbord of treats. New album Goths is the most favoured tonight with six songs getting an airing, but tracks from at least six other albums appear, as well as 2002 B-side New Chevrolet in Flames. The more emotionally charged songs resonate particularly hard with the packed Art School crowd: Get Lonely, Wild Sage and Lakeside View Apartments Suite to name a few.
Some tracks come with typically elaborate introductions from Darnielle; some are humourous (We Do It Different on the West Coast) and some try to find hope despite circumstances (Until I Am Whole). The most poignant comes in the winding and personal tale that prefaces Unicorn Tolerance (during which Darnielle puts down a heckler with acerbic wit). These titbits of background information provide a small window in the mindframe of Darnielle and help the gig achieve another level of intimacy.
Tonight's show is not the full Mountain Goats line-up, with only multi-instrumentalist Matt Douglas providing backing for Darnielle. This informs the set choices and means that some arrangements have to be altered, with the frequent use of the saxophone bringing a knowing smile between the duo. But this does nothing to detract from the performance and Darnielle is on peak form all night, whether he's jumping around with his acoustic guitar, crooning along to Wear Black or on his hands and knees in the front row to let the crowd sing along to No Children.
Needless to say, The Mountain Goats mean a great deal to a lot of people. Rarely do an artist and audience come together so seamlessly as they do tonight on hits like Up the Wolves or This Year; Darnielle looks genuinely shocked (and thrilled) by the crowd's reckless stomping, singing and general hysteria. The Mountain Goats can bring a lot of emotions to the surface, but not without a healthy dose of catharsis. And, on these tracks in particular, it feels like we're all working through the demons, one song at a time.