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The Mountain Goats are for all of us

Preview – The Mountain Goats at Neighborhood Theatre – October 3

by Sean Titone (@therealseant)

Sometimes, it’s the lyrics that stop you in your tracks.

“Feels so free when I hit the avenue

Nothing like a New York summer night

Every dream’s a good dream

Even awful dreams are good dreams

If you’re doing it right.

Remember soaring higher than the clouds

Get pretty sentimental now and then.

The loneliest people in the whole wide world

are the ones you’re never going to see again.”

-from Harlem Roulette off the 2012 album Transcendental Youth

Other times, it’s a musical turn of phrase that comes immediately AFTER one of those heartbreakingly beautiful lyrics, like when the woodwinds flutter downward in call-and-response after the line “I feel like the last person alive” from Southwestern Territory, the lead track off Beat the Champ, The Mountain Goats’ fifteenth studio album. But the one constant that runs throughout the entire Mountain Goats catalogue is the rich storytelling that comprises chief songwriter John Darnielle’s lyrics. This is no surprise when you also learn that a petition was created in 2012 to name Darnielle the United States Poet Laureate, and his 2014 debut novel, Wolf in White Van, was nominated for a National Book Award in the fiction category. Darnielle has also found a kindred spirit in award-winning YA novelist/internet wunderkind John Green who has repeatedly said in interviews that The Mountain Goats are his favorite band, and their music is the only thing he listens to when he writes. Green admires Darnielle so much that he invited The Mountain Goats to perform at Carnegie Hall in 2013 during a sold-out anniversary celebration of Green’s book The Fault in our Stars.

The Mountain Goats - John Darnielle, Jon Wurster, Peter Hughes, June 7, 2012.
John  Darnielle photo by DL Anderson

The Mountain Goats, a trio rounded out by bassist Peter Hughes and the busiest drummer in rock Jon Wurster, are headed out for only eight dates in North America this fall, one of which is Saturday, October 3 at the Neighborhood Theatre in Charlotte, to complete a tour that will support their most recent magnum opus, Beat the Champ. The album is about a lot of things, but mostly, it’s a concept album about professional wrestlers and their sometimes sordid, often lonely lives. This is subject matter that is a bit of a left turn for Darnielle, whose confessional songwriting usually deals with more personal, autobiographical topics. But just because it’s about professional wrestlers doesn’t mean it’s not relatable. We all hide behind masks; his characters on Beat the Champ, both real and fictional, just happen to do it for a living and get scarred and bloody in the process.   

Live, Darnielle has an infectious energy. On the more upbeat songs, he paces the stage wildly, quickly strumming his acoustic guitar and singing like he’s playing a private show to each individual person in the room. He’s performing theater, much like the beloved characters in his most recent batch of songs, and it should be great fun to see him and his band play songs off Beat the Champ in a live setting. Choked Out, for example, is as close to a full-fledged punk song that you’ll likely ever hear on a Mountain Goats album. And it’s only a few songs removed from the jazz-influenced Fire Editorial with its Vince Guaraldi-sounding piano and brushed cymbal drumming. Confident eclecticism, it would seem, is another constant in the music of The Mountain Goats.

Darnielle has been following his muse for over 25 years now, starting back in the early ‘90s with the rudimentary process of using a boombox to record and document his bare-bones songs on cassette. His songwriting, vocal delivery, and particularly his arrangements, have come a long way over the last two decades, but what remains at the core of The Mountain Goats’ massive output is a voice for the different and downtrodden– a musical outlet for the weirdos, nerds, abusers and abused, black sheep, bookworms, road trippers, adolescents, poets, death metal lovers, folk lovers, wrestling fans and non-wrestling fans out there. So, pretty much all of us. The Mountain Goats are for all of us.

Catch The Mountain Goats Saturday, October 3 at the Neighborhood Theatre.

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