The Mountain Goats

support Skylar Gudasz
author LL date 15/10/17 venue Pumpehuset, Copenhagen, DEN

John Darnielle's indie rock/folk project The Mountain Goats has not been on my radar for more than a couple of years although it has existed in one shape or another since the early 1990's. Still, there was no doubt in my mind that I had to be present at the first Danish show of his that I have been aware of and it seems I have not been alone with that thought. The downstairs room at Pumpehuset has filled with people already when I arrive just in time for the first song of the evening's support act.

No photographer was available for this show

Skylar Gudasz

Singer-songwriter Skylar Gudasz has just one album behind her: the debut "Oleander" from 2016. It's a pleasant listen with country-vibes and tonight she performs her songs alone for the most part, first a couple by the piano and then the rest on her guitar. She has a kind of dry humor that fits well with the vibe of the headliner tonight, especially in the only song of hers that I already know. It's called "I'm So Happy I Could Die" and it quickly wins over the audience that henceforth laughs willingly at her remarks in between songs. In the middle section of her set, The Mountain Goats' Matt Douglas appears on stage to flesh out her sound a little by accompanying her on the piano. Progression-wise, her set is generally well put together and when she plays her last song which turns out a little quieter than what has gone before it, it doesn't take long for the audience to stop chit-chatting and instead focus on her. Thus she successfully captivates the room with solid craftsmanship and a warm voice even though some of her songs score points more for the atmosphere of the sound than for the lyrics - a thing that I probably notice mostly because story is such a central part of the songs of The Mountain Goats.

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The Mountain Goats

A little background knowledge: The Mountains Goats was for many years a moniker for singer-songwriter John Darnielle's solo project. He remains at the core of it but through the years, he has collaborated with various musicians who have been included in the band. Still, this tour sees him performing with help from just one current member, namely the multi-instrumentalist Matt Douglas who also appeared supporting Skylar Gudasz. During this headlining set, he performs as a backup-singer and changes between instruments, supporting Darnielle's acoustic guitar and piano work mainly on saxophone, piano, guitar, and one time a flute. Darnielle seems to thoroughly enjoy their dynamic which is very open and jam-like in the confines of the song structures, something I don't often see at all my usual rock and metal shows. He bursts into the widest smiles and exclaims his excitement whenever Douglas plays something cool or they just hit the zone, prompting the audience to quickly do the same, yelling out and clapping whenever they approve of a little solo or the music gets more intense than previously.

The show is thus very much a celebration of the band's music and for a long while, the relatively simple acoustic sound doesn't bother me even though I know the songs as more well-rounded. The new song "Unicorn Tolerance" does fall a little short for me, though, as it drags on a little without the development the various instruments bring to it on the album. Darnielle's lyrics are, however, clearly spoken and his busy story-telling approach works well in the songs as well as in between them and we get a fair share of background stories for various songs through the evening. For the first part of the set, I am particularly impressed with "In the Craters on the Moon" as well as "You or Your Memory" that has the entire room chanting along to the chorus, just like I have otherwise only witnessed at cellar-room melodic punk shows. After this, Douglas takes a break and Darnielle fills the stage himself for four songs. The sing-alongs continue for "Color in Your Cheeks", albeit a little more calmly. He is an endearing character and thus he also gets away with firmly addressing his refusal to respond to some audience members' attempts at being slightly rowdy with song requests or questions during one of his monologues explaining that he will play "Tollund Man" since he so rarely plays shows in these parts of the world.

As Douglas returns to the stage, we witness a funny little moment where the two can't remember which instrument he is supposed to play for "Riches and Wonders", further pointing to the fact of their semi-improvisational musical dynamic. As Darnielle explains to us, Douglas had never heard the song before Darnielle decided to put it on the setlist during the soundcheck, and with a flicker in his eye he continues to encourage us to cross our fingers for our favorite songs because you never know what he might have come up with from day to day. The next highlight for me is "Lakeside View Apartments Suite" which I have never heard before but Darnielle really succeeds in setting a mysterious atmosphere around it. After this, he gives us a little background to a couple of songs from his most recent album "Goths", of which "Abandoned Flesh" works really well with the stripped-down saxophone riff, and then it's time for loud sing-alongs and cheers again with the finishing two "The Young Thousands" and "Up the Wolves". For the encore, Skylar Gudasz joins to sing the choir-parts from "Wear Black" with Douglas before "This Year" again has people jumping and yelling at the top of their lungs. Finally, Darnielle walks into the crowd singing the angry lyrics to "No Children" with his newfound Scandinavian friends to great applause that continues for a while in hopes of another encore but no such luck.

In conclusion, then, it is certainly an enjoyable set with a lot of good songs but the acoustic style does get pretty tired after a while, although it is, of course, helped a lot with the contributions by Douglas. Thus I find it a hard one to grade as it varies a good deal through the 1½ hour it lasts. Still, the really good parts have me momentarily debating a grade as high as 9 - certainly more than I have ever considered for similar acoustic setups - and there's no denying the song-writing prowess or performance skills of Darnielle. In the end, it evens out as a firmly solid evening and I have definitely been encouraged to go home and check out more of his older albums that I have not yet gotten around to.

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Setlist:

  • 1. Have to Explode
  • 2. In the Craters on the Moon
  • 3. Until I Am Whole
  • 4. Unicorn Tolerance
  • 5. Get Lonely
  • 6. You or Your Memory
  • 7. Color in Your Cheeks (solo)
  • 8. Transjordanian Blues (solo)
  • 9. Tollund Man (solo)
  • 10. You Were Cool (solo)
  • 11. Riches and Wonders
  • 12. Abandoned Flesh
  • 13. Lakeside View Apartments Suite
  • 14. We Do It Different on the West Coast
  • 15. Rain in Soho
  • 16. Andrew Eldritch Is Moving Back to Leeds
  • 17. The Young Thousands
  • 18. Up the Wolves

- Encore

  • 19. Wear Black (with Skylar Gudasz)
  • 20. This Year
  • 21. No Children

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