Review: The Mountain Goats at The Trinity Centre, Bristol

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The Mountain Goats have been recording and performing music since the early 1990s with various line-ups, but always featuring frontman John Darnielle. Darnielle hails from North Carolina, and on this tour was joined by Peter Hughes on bass, Jon Wurster on drums, and Matthew Douglas on woodwind. They were supported by Canadian folk band The Weather Station.

Arguably, Darnielle is the greatest lyricist of this generation, and is known not only for his music but also as a novelist. His songs tell stories of their own, and I have no doubt that everyone in the Trinity Centre in Bristol on the 17th of November will agree that The Mountain Goats have written some of the greatest lyrics of this century and the last. The atmosphere was electric. I was surprised by the variety of people surrounding me; two middle aged men behind me reeled off the previous times they’d seen Darnielle live, to a young brother and sister who’d come all the way from Ireland just for the privilege.

The support act was great, cracking jokes and playing mellow folk songs with an obvious enjoyment of what they were doing. When they left the stage there was an agonising half hour wait for the main act; the reason we were all there. I for one had a knot of anxious-excitement in my stomach (which had been there since I bought the tickets in April) and it only loosened when the room dimmed and the stage lit up.

There is only one way to describe John Darnielle’s stage presence; awe-inspiring. The audience were hanging onto every word he said. He was witty, friendly, and completely compelling. I was star-struck.

The set list had something for everyone; from a few very old songs that Darnielle performed solo, just him and a guitar (no pick, apparently the 24-year-old Darnielle was not a pick fan), to classics such as ‘No Children’, ‘This Year’, and ‘The Diaz Brothers’, which had the entire audience singing along. It was like the best karaoke I’d ever been to, and I’ve experienced Thursdays in the Stag’s too many times to mention. There were also songs from the band’s latest album, Beat the Champ, which was released in April this year and is their 15th studio record.

Peter Hughes’ awesome dancing, suave suit, and perhaps the most well polished shoes I’ve ever laid eyes on cannot go unmentioned, whilst Jon Wurster on the drums pulled the whole arrangement together. Every time I looked at him he seemed to be having more fun than the last.

I’ve been to a lot of gigs where you feel like you’re in a sea of people, but this concert was intimate, friendly, and welcoming. There was a slightly tense moment when someone shined a camera flash in Darnielle’s face, but this was brushed away with a joke and an apology. In a brief silence between songs someone shouted, “you saved my life”, and Darnielle, not missing a beat, replied, “you saved your own life, I just made music that you listened to while you were doing it.”

The Mountain Goats may not be considered mainstream, and they will probably never play Wembley, but what they do have is an astounding portfolio of songs, a breath-taking stage presence, and the ability to make an audience of 200 people forget about everything except a guitar and a single voice.

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