This Mountain Goats Article was written by Ed Phillips, a GIGsoup Contributor. Edited by Hazel Webster. Lead photo by Ryan Plugs
Halfway through the show, a young audience member raises his wrist to eye level. And he’s just checking the time, unless that happens to be his Aston Martin parked outside. Presumably, he doesn’t want to miss the last train out of Manchester. Presumably, his watch is broken, because he then takes a smartphone out of his pocket and glances at that instead, before quickly looking back up at the stage. Presumably, the Mountain Goats have gained an enthusiastic and diverse fan base since the ’90s, as audience members of multiple ages, genders and backgrounds are now doing the same, whilst keeping continuing to nod along to the brisk rhythm, as if entranced. There are no casual fans of this band.
One of the greatest living storytellers of rock today, John Darnielle opens the show with an ode to the famous late wrestler, Bruiser Brody. He captures all the grit and mystique of professional wrestling and unleashes it within a few minutes, in a jagged, heartfelt barrage over the audience’s heads. ‘Stabbed to Death Outside San Juan’ is then followed by songs that ultimately revolve around similar themes. The human heart in conflict with itself. Reconciling yourself to the inescapable condition of fear. Coming to terms with a hard reality. But to be more clear, tragically flawed relationships seem to be his major fixation.
As a songwriter, he is detail-orientated when it comes to the characters in his music, crafting enthralling stories that relate a great deal to fans who are often literary, emotional and obsessive in equal measure, from the joviality of catchy songs ‘Foreign Object’ and ‘Dance Music’ to the somber tones of ‘Heel Turn 2’ and ‘Never Quite Free’.
Darnielle’s charisma allows him to hold the audience in the palm of his hand. “Will you please shut up!” is a stark contrast to the more relaxed reaction people had to the chatter during Tamara Linderman’s opening act as Weather Station, which exceeded expectations, laying a suitably soft foundation for the Goats to tread. But during the band’s time on stage, audience members tend to hold their breath.
Overall, the performance made up for in sound what it somewhat lacked in spectacle, but then The Mountain Goats aren’t concerned with style so much as they are with substance. And heart.