If you heard the lyrics “I hope you die, I hope we both die” echoing from Trees, you might imagine a sea of black clothing and black hair and a bunch of skinny guys on stage shredding on their electric guitars. And you might feel validated learning the music is from The Mountain Goats promoting their new album Goths. But you’d be wrong.
Two hours before the sold out show began, fans were lined up on the street in Deep Ellum, leaning casually against the wall in jeans and t-shirts with funny nerd jokes that others in the crowd would be sure to appreciate. By the time I got my spot on the floor shortly after doors opened, the venue was ¼ full and there was already a long line for the merch table.
Holy Sons started the night with only his electric guitar, his voice, and a few pedals. Just by himself, he filled the room with sound and moved a few people in the front row to bang their heads along with the music. To connect with the crowd, he played a few covers, including a Joni Mitchell song at the request of the crowd, complete with a story about how Joni stayed at his dad’s house at one time in the 1960’s. While his banter and storytelling was funny and charming, I wasn’t the biggest fan of his music. His guitar work was impressive but his lyrics were too depressing for my tastes. He played each song in minor and sang about the meaninglessness of life, which wasn’t something I really wanted to hear considering I was tired and sick from eating too much pizza. He closed out the set with the theme song from MASH to enthusiastic cheers from the crowd.
Twenty minutes later, the house lights dimmed again for a synth-infused orchestral melody blasting out of the speakers, setting the tone for The Mountain Goats’ performance to come. Finally, the curtains opened and, with a strong, deep beat and deafening cheers, the band launched into the first song from Goths, a dark, gospel-sounding exploration of cause and effect. Eschewing the arrangement of the new album, John Darnielle, the lead of The Mountain Goats, strummed on an electric guitar. In their suits and dress shirts, the band made me think of a high school band from the 50’s on a reunion tour. As John later explained, this look closely resembled his wardrobe during his goth years.
The band blasted through the first set playing mostly songs from the new album. John switched between his guitars and the keyboard while his keyboard player switched between that, a flute, saxophone, and electric guitar. This all culminated with the drums and bass to create a powerful series of songs that changed how I felt about the new album entirely.
After about six songs, the rest of the band left the stage to let John fly solo. Thinking off the top of his head, John picked a few songs from his old catalog, some dating back 20 years, and played them acoustic while some of the crowd sang along. Soon, the full band was back with more powerful renditions of songs from All Hail West Texas and The Sunset Tree. As the evening drew on, the crowd just got more energetic and enthusiastic about singing along. The band reciprocated with increased energy too. By the time the band was a few songs into the encore, John was head banging and flinging sweat while his glasses slid down his nose.
With suggestions from the drummer and the crowd, The Mountain Goats played an encore almost as long as the show, bringing the band’s stage time over the two hour mark. Still, the suit jackets stayed on and the crowd jumped and yelled late into the night with no signs of stopping, as John sang out his life story.