John Darnielle saves his first beer for a couple songs into this iteration of The Mountain Goats’ set; it’s an unusual one, with Darnielle backed by only one other band member in multi-instrumentalist Matt Douglas. Much more intimate than the band’s previous visit to the Brudenell about a year ago, it’s somehow better like this – Darnielle’s lyrics are as direct as ever, and the sparse instrumentation surrounding it only brings them closer to the forefront.
It’s especially interesting to see The Mountain Goats play like this in the wake of their latest; this year’s Goths carried a mantra of “NO COMPED VOCALS / NO PITCH CORRECTION / NO GUITARS” with it, and here Darnielle is, armed with an acoustic guitar. It’s the first time these songs have been performed like this live, and the impact is overall unpolished. The duo struggle through some songs to great comedic effect, messing with keyboard settings on the go and botching an attempt at ‘The Grey King and the Silver Flame Attunement’ despite a solid 5 minutes spent on explaining the backstory behind the track. At another point where Darnielle takes audience requests, he trips through deep cut ‘Alibi’ whilst reading the lyrics from an audience member’s phone, at times scrolling with his nose and still fervently playing whilst commenting on misspellings. This is a big part of what people come to see the band for, though – Darnielle is a charismatic and powerful figure on stage, just as soon commenting sarcastically on the “incandescent glare” of his genius after apologising for an unrehearsed set due to Douglas’ having twins.
Despite these mishaps, these Mountain Goats do just fine – the set is beautiful in its deliverance, with Douglas’ intermittent saxophone on songs like ‘The Ballad of Bull Ramos’ accentuating the throbbing expectance of the song. Classics like ‘Jenny’ and ‘The Best Ever Death Metal Band Out Of Denton’ are met just as enthusiastically as ‘Rain in Soho’ and ‘Wear Black’, and ‘This Year’ is particularly uplifting. Darnielle claims the Brudenell is one of his favourite venues, and his enthusiasm shows just as it did the year before. Despite being stripped back, The Mountain Goats are embracing the limelight here, and flexing every tendon of songwriting mastery Darnielle’s displayed over the years.By Jowan Mead