Published May 05, 2019After 28 years and after almost as many LPs, EPs and cassettes, John Darnielle and his Mountain Goats finally made their live debut in the nation's capital. Ottawa's Bronson Centre, filled with hordes of long-time fans — many who could affectionately be described as "indoor types" — radiated with excitement and anticipation for the Saturday night performance.
Opening the evening was Shana Cleveland, vocalist and guitarist for psychedelic indie rock band La Luz. Seated in a chair next to her keyboardist, Cleveland delivered an impressive set of songs from her recently released solo debut, Night of the Worm Moon. Blending her incredible Fahey-esque fingerpicking skills with whispered dream-pop vocals, Cleveland received a great response from the growing and well-mannered crowd.
Entering the stage to the commanding notes from an Italian opera, John Darnielle was joined by longtime band members: Peter Hughes on bass, multi-instrumentalist Matt Douglas and Superchunk's Jon Wurster on drums. With a enduring smile pasted to his face, Darnielle lead his band through the opening two tracks from their latest LP, In League with Dragons.
Moving into older material, including "You and Your Memory," "The Coroner's Gambit" and "Sax Rohmer #1," Darnielle cranked up the on-stage energy, moving around the platform, headbanging and sweating through his button-up and suit jacket. After Hughes and Wurster left the stage, Darnielle and Douglas performed a stripped-down version of "Wear Black" from the last LP, Goths, before Darnielle gave the crowd three acoustic-only versions of rarely-performed tracks: "Distant Stations" from 2002's All Hail West Texas; "Waving at You" from 1996's Nothing for Juice; and "Matthew 25:21" from 2009's The Life of the World to Come.
After the band returned to stage, and after a small set of new tracks, Darnielle — taken aback by enthusiastic response — humbly thanked the impassioned audience, providing affirmations like "You are an amazing crowd," "We will be returning to Ottawa" and "Believe me, the pleasure is completely mine," before ending the set off with favourites like "Magpie" and "Have to Explode."
Returning to the stage for a beseeched encore, the Mountain Goats somehow managed to increase the energy even more, capping off their 105-minute performance with renditions of tracks from their most iconic LPs, 2002's Tallahassee and 2005's The Sunset Tree, including "See America Right," "Up the Wolves," "No Children" (which featured an extended jazzy spoken word intro in which Darnielle drolly spoke about his divorce), and the powerful "This Year" — which found John running around and wildly grinning before pushing himself to the edge of the stage to allow fans to sing along and grab on to his outreached hand.
As the four members lined up on stage for a customary bow, the now-spent crowd looked grateful and inspired by the evening's performance, a sentiment completely and genuinely shared by the Mountain Goats.