Something about a group of 500 or so people shouting “Hail Satan!” inside the Wexner Center for the Arts sounds a little off, but when John Darnielle, the lead singer of the Mountain Goats, waved for the crowd to join in singing the refrain of “The Best Ever Death Metal in Denton” most of the crowd shouted it in unison. It felt right.
I promise this is not a story about a cult or even a metal show — just a review of an indie-folk rock concert at an art museum.
The Mountain Goats came to the Wex’s Performance Space on Wednesday night in support of their new album “Beat the Champ” and put on a show well worth the price of admission ($20).
Stephen Brodsky, a solo guitar player, opened the show. His performance was a little strange and unengaging, best summed up with his comments to the audience between songs: “My brain is real foggy. I’m sorry,” “This is the quietest audience on the tour so far” and “Does anyone want chocolate?”
For the majority of his performance, the audience was respectful but unengaged. He had a voice that filled the room, but his guitar did not. This changed a little towards the end when his songs picked up the tempo. He also played with the disadvantage of not having a band behind him. Other than Ed Sheeran, it’s rare to find a single singer-guitarist that can keep an audience’s attention for an entire set.
Luckily, the Mountain Goats came in and put on one of the better shows I’ve seen.
They don’t have any tricks. There was no light show, no blistering guitar solos, and only a solid black backdrop behind the band. But the music was enough. Darnielle is one of the most talented lyricists in all of music with a remarkable ability to capture an audience. During the piano solo in “Heel Turn 2,” the sound of me opening my notebook was the second loudest thing in the room. When he stepped back from the microphone while explaining the meaning behind “The Young Thousands,” the room stayed silent.
The show was not all Darnielle though; the Mountain Goats bassist Peter Hughes and drummer Jon Wurster were excellent. Standing out was Matt Douglas, a multi-instrumentalist who hustled between horns, clarinet, guitar, and piano throughout the night. Douglas’s range of musical abilities may have been the most exceptional aspect of the show.
The Mountain Goats played their biggest hit, “This Year,” in the first encore. This was when I realized the strange appeal of the Mountain Goats. Middle school aged girls and bearded, mid-thirties men in flannel were jumping and singing the same song — Not together, don’t worry, but in the same room.
Darnielle gave “This Year,” a song about Darnielle’s determination to be hopeful about life while dealing with an abusive step-father, the passion that it deserves. He phoned nothing in.
While the Mountain Goats are critical darlings, their music is not for everyone. I can see how Darnielle’s nasally tone may turn some off or why some may not want to listen to an indie-folk album about professional wrestling, but in my opinion, their show was something I would see again. I just might not tell all of my friends to come with me.