There appears to be few things as cathartic as screaming along lyrics to The Mountain Goats' songs with hundreds of like-minded fans.
From opener “Going to Bogota” to closer “This Year” and everything in between, singer John Darnielle led a crowd Friday night at Musica in Akron through one hyper-literate story after another set to stripped-down acoustic rock.
And most of the time, someone in the crowd knew all the words.
Darnielle and his collaborators have built a devoted following over the past three decades with their prolific output (which, of course, doesn’t count his novels and his recent turn on the TV show "Poker Face"), so it was no surprise that the show sold out well in advance. Instead of a full band, though, he was only accompanied by guitarist/keyboardist/saxophonist Matt Douglas, a fact punctuated by the pair using the Grover Washington Jr. and Bill Withers' song “Just the Two of Us” as their walk-on music.
Still, the music during the 90-minute “duo show” filled the venue just as well as any band with three times the members. And a lot of that credit goes to Douglas, whose sax work on “Soft Targets” and guitar noodling on “Hair Match,” among many others, elevated already powerful songs. He even kept up with Darnielle on piano when the latter threw a curveball by pulling out “I Will Grab You by the Ears,” as the pair had never played together before.
But there was no doubt that Darnielle - whose between-song banter was nearly as entertaining as the music itself - and his lyrics were the reason the venue was packed. Knowing that, he appeared to give all he could.
Whether it was songs about wrestlers (“Hair Match” and “Southwestern Territory”) Dungeons & Dragons (“Clemency for the Wizard King”) or a couple that hates each other (“No Children”), Darnielle picked, plucked, strummed and thrashed his way through the set. He even let his inner metal-head out a few times by lightly headbanging and allowing his mop top to fly.
And the crowd, save for a chatty bunch near the bar (something Darnielle himself noted when he gently chided them before “Southwestern Territory” by telling them that “it’s a quiet tune and a better tune when we’re not talking.”), ate it up. As the set wore on and the more popular songs started flowing, audience members shouted along to more and more lyrics.
By the end, a few had to be hoarse, and with good reason. Hopefully everybody went home feeling just a little bit better.
Lily Hiatt opened the show with her brand of country-infused singer/songwriter material. Featuring strong originals and a cover of John Prine’s “Angel from Montgomery,” her set was temporarily derailed, in this reviewer's opinion, by her decision to use a distortion pedal with her acoustic guitar. She eventually stopped, though, giving her vocals time to shine.
Setlist (from setlist.fm and my own recollection)
1. Going to Bogota
2. Dutch Orchestra Blues
3. Color in Your Cheeks
4. Soft Targets
5. Clemency for the Wizard King
6. I Will Grab You by the Ears
7. The Recognition Scene
8. Alpha Gelida
9. Love Cuts the Strings
10. Southwestern Territory
11. Transcendental Youth
12. Hair Match
13. Mark on You
14. First Blood
16. Dance Music
17. Up the Wolves
18. Palmcorder Yajna
19. No Children
20. This Year
Eric Heisig is a freelance writer in Cleveland. He can be reached at [email protected].
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