by JOSH PELTA-HELLER
Woe betide the naysaying snickerer that mistakes indie legends The Mountain Goats for folky meanderers. Live, John Darnielle and co. invest their goat music with a visceral immediacy and all-in emotionalism that, even in its moments of accidental grace and pin-drop quietude, utterly commands the collective attention of the room, which was pretty packed Friday night at Union Transfer for the first of a two-night stand.
Touring the new album In League With Dragons (2019), Darnielle curated a set list that featured new songs, a solo section with deep cuts from Nothing For Juice (1996), and crowd pleasing anthems. Introducing the new album’s title track, Darnielle said, “This is a dragon. Your own dragon. You imagine this dragon so you can burn your enemies alive.” Like a self possessed D&D master, Darnielle took the audience down the RPG rabbit hole of his own songbook on a campaign that included skirmishes with crippling depression, substance-fueled debauchery, and esoteric sports references, to name only a few highlights. Throughout the quest, Darnielle’s piercing voice was supported by his band mates — which included local-ish-boy-made-good Jon Wurster (Superchunk, Bob Mould Band) on drums — who elevated simple folk songs to urgent rock songs. Though he’s dungeon master of The Mountain Goats, or frontman or whatever, Darnielle wouldn’t have been to make it through his musical journey without the band.
The cohesion of this group couldn’t have been more apparent then when they were quickly ushered back onto stage for an encore by an audience hungry for more. Ending the set with “This Year” and “No Children,” Darnielle reminded us of the dynamic juxtaposition of his songs, offering hope that he’s “gonna’ make it through this year if it kills me,” before returning to The Mountain Goats’ home base of chronic depression, closing the night with hundreds of his following joining his voice singing, “I hope I die//I hope we both die.” In the end, I left with the refreshing feeling that middle age ain’t got shit on Darnielle and his Mountain Goats. — DILLON ALEXANDER