The Mountain Goats: It’s All True

March 29th, 2011

The Mountain Goats – The Bowery Ballroom – March 28, 2011

There’s no denying that even given John Darnielle’s frantic recording pace, he’s as strong a songwriter as ever. Just like Sonic Youth has, he’s been plugging away, through the infancy of indie rock, putting in the time year after year, experimenting within the confines of his acoustic guitar to get to a place that’s very different from the early work. It’s a logical, gradual change that just keeps gaining him fans, evidenced by three nights of sold-out Mountain Goats shows at The Bowery Ballroom. Radio City would be the next logical step, but one that you could see Darnielle resisting. He’s historically played to the small venue and the intimacy of the material … and that’s part of the equation that makes all his work so successful.

The surprising thing is Darnielle has been slowly building this devoted fan base with very instrumentally traditional songs that rely on his unique delivery and the consistent songwriting he’s brought to each album, from the early live cassette recordings to the more recent string orchestral-backed albums. A classic from last night, “Going to Georgia” or “This Year,” from the autobiographical The Sunset Tree, are entirely new experiences rearranged for a four-piece.

There’s always going to be a surprise at his live show, a song you’ve never heard from an obscure 10″, and when the audience yells out requests, Darnielle actually listens and plays them. It all comes from being genuinely happy and excited to share the songs from all parts of his long career. In his typical completely open style he talked about high school crushes, the death of his abusive stepfather and a Cannibal Corpse documentary he encouraged everyone to immediately go see. I had heard about Darnielle’s enthusiasm and generosity performing live, and from quiet, heartbreaking, whispered ballads to rocking anthemic and angst-filled sing-alongs, all of it’s true. —Jason Dean