Much like John Darnielle himself, the Mountain Goats’ audience at Webster Hall on Tuesday night had a tendency to flaunt its wit. Every time someone called out a song request — which was frequently, because in this cultish fan base, everyone has a favorite — someone else had a witty thing to yell in retort. Sometimes it would just be mimicry, “Loud noises!” “Let’s yell things!” and others were more obvious jokes, like names of rap bands. Darnielle proved to be most clever of all. When someone yelled “R Kelly!” he launched into a rant about R. Kelly’s talent and his frustration with everyone making a mockery of him that was so expertly delivered it was difficult to tell whether he was being facetious or serious. Before anyone could ponder it, he launched into a cover of the controversial R&B star’s “The World’s Greatest.”
Darnielle played his part well, with stories of locking himself in a room for days on end, and the romanticization of self-loathing in order to get laid. He pointed fingers around the room, jumped to different areas of the stage, stopped a couple minutes into a song when he messed up the lyrics and prompts the audience for them. He was personable and intelligent, but completely adept at handling the spotlight. He’s clearly a man who knows his niche — 20-and 30somethings, who probably blog (and definitely read his, which is most assuredly excellent) and/or write in some form or another and read The Believer.
Seeing the Mountain Goats live is a surefire way to increase one’s appreciation for their skillset. Darnielle’s voice seems a much better fit for the music when it’s filling the room, and his method of playing guitar is fascinating. During the short set where he played solo, his one guitar was so full and constant, it occasionally sounded like two.
The Mountain Goats, “Lovecraft in Brooklyn” (download)
But the biggest surprise to someone looking in on this world from the outside (I’m more of an occasional onlooker than a devout follower) is that the selections from Heretic Pride, the Mountain Goats’ latest release, are decidedly more rocking and rambunctious than anything from the earlier catalog. During “Lovecraft in Brooklyn,” three people decided to start their own most pit. (Tip to these people: if you decide you enjoy moshing, try it at a metal show. The results will improve.)
The Mountain Goats, “California Song” (download)
At the end of the encore, Darnielle closed with “California Song,” which ends with the couplet: “you really got a hold on me / you really got a hold on me.” Showman that he is, he sang it with a bit of flair, and with a small gesture, walked off the stage, leaving his band mates playing, only to walk off once the music was through. The fans kept applauding and stomping. He had a hold on them, and it wasn’t his wit or his performance skills that ensnared them. It was the music: and they wanted more. But as the Mountain Goats took the stage for a second encore, it was clear that the audience members weren’t the only enraptured ones.