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The Mountain Goats are the band that your friend recommended you to – maybe because you were going through a rough time or just had some crazy realization about life. Upon your discovery of them maybe you kept that song’s meaning to yourself. Maybe you got to see them live, at the House of Blues on October 18. And then you realize that you’re in very, very good company.
The House of Blues is intimate – once through the hectic mess of doors, ticket scanners, bag searches, and coat checks, everyone is free to roam. The crowd there that night was diverse in age– late teens stood next to those in their thirties, virtually chronicling the span of the Mountain Goats’ career from when their first full album was released in 1994. A light buzz built as these fans crowded in and towards the stage, filling the ground level of the small room. And then, when it seemed like it could fill no more, the lights dimmed.
First out was the opener for the Mountain Goats, Matthew E. White, accompanied by his band. His and his band’s performance included a handful of songs from his new album, Beg Inner. White’s calm appearance while playing guitar and singing did not betray the surprise in store: their ability to whip up the crowd into a frenzy of bobbing heads and stomping feet. Opening bands are generally a hit or miss with audiences who are there to see their favorite artist perform. However, White and his band were spot on; everyone was in love with their humble, yet intense persona by the end. The best part? Just as he was about to leave the stage, he asked to share a quick story – it turns out that he arranged the horn section for Transcendental Youth, the Mountain Goats’ latest album, released on October 2 of this year. “I guess he like me so much, John [Darnielle] asked me to come on tour,” White smiled sheepishly. Later, this came in to play, when Darnielle had White’s accompanying horn section join him for several songs, including “Cry for Judas”, a popular, upbeat song off of Transcendental Youth.
“How could anyone not be happy right now?” said a girl behind me as the set up of the stage was moved in preparation for the appearance of the Mountain Goats. That hazy feel good vibe was seemingly infused within the special effects “smoke” which was just now ceasing to flow off the stage.
At last, the lights dimmed the Mountain Goats took the stage. Kicking off the night was the number “Love, Love, Love” from their 2005 album Sunset Tree. Despite its age, which would be a problem for many other bands as prolific as the Mountain Goats, almost every member of the audience sang along to the last lines of the first verse, “Some things you do for money/and some you do for love love love.” As this happened, Darnielle took a step back from the mic, looked down, and giggled.
This was not the only moment when Darnielle was endearing. In fact, it was this mixed with sincerity, openness, and passion that became the theme for the night. And it is this theme that has probably been running for years, creating fans that knew even his most obscure songs.
Darnielle isn’t ignorant about the passion of the Mountain Goats fan base. Before the next song, he approached the mic and began, “One way to age twenty years in the space of a minute is to get on stage and mention the internet … but somebody messaged me a request on Twitter today during soundcheck – it’s pretty obscure; it’s a B-side and I don’t think the record sold that well, so I can’t really imagine how else anybody would have heard it,” he continued sarcastically. “I guess if there was some method of getting information and without cost, but… probably not.” With that, he plunged into a rendition of “Attention All Pickpockets”, which funnily enough, everyone knew the words to. Darnielle didn’t seem to mind in that moment how everyone knew, just that they did.
Of course, the night featured many songs from Transcendental Youth, which at this point is only a little over two weeks old. Considering the aforementioned dedication of the fans, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that everyone knew the words here, too. But it still is a little shocking when a number like “Transcendental Youth” can be sung along to perfectly by half the crowd, or “Cry for Judas” where everyone gasps because they already know it by the first few chords. The Mountain Goats fed off of this energy – and responded with an encore after a time spent off stage. The words of the last song, “This Year” still rang in the crowd’s heads when they left those big side exit doors: “I broke free on a Saturday morning/ I put the pedal to the floor/ headed north on Mills avenue/ and listened to the engine roar… I am going to make it through this year/ if it kills me.”