The Beets, a four-piece from Queens, started off the night with a short set of fuzzy, upbeat garage rock. They were a bit of a mixed bag – most songs were impressively catchy, but both singers and the recorder player (strangely hidden behind a homemade banner) had trouble staying in tune. With more practice and less beer, they’d be an amazing live band.
I’ll admit that before seeing the Mountain Goats live, I didn’t understand the Mountain Goats’ transition to a full-fledged trio with bass guitar and drums. The meat and potatoes of any Mountain Goats song has always been frontman John Darnielle’s poetic, emotive lyrics; the music accompanying those lyrics is usually serviceable but nothing flashy. When the album Tallahassee was released with bass and drums accompanying Darnielle’s acoustic guitar, the additions seemed unnecessary and distracting.
Thankfully I was wrong. The Mountain Goats’ set at the Rickshaw Theatre proved that, solo or not, Darnielle’s songwriting is more than powerful enough to stand on its own. To start, Darnielle played a handful of songs with only his guitar. “Woke Up New”, a breakup song from 2006’s Get Lonely was a highlight that had audience members singing along at the top of their lungs.
Darnielle was then joined by bassist Peter Hughes and drummer Jon Wurster. Somehow, both managed to add to Darnielle’s songs without detracting from his work. “In The Craters On The Moon” was especially impressive, as all three built to a menacing crescendo of sound. A slightly subdued version of “Dance Music” was another favourite.
When returning for an encore, Darnielle admitted that he was feeling sick but still wanted to play a few more songs. Thankfully, he did, and we were treated to near-perfect renditions of “No Children” and “See America Right”. The audience chanted along to both, and when John said goodnight every face in the room was beaming. What an amazing evening.