Years of incessant touring have not wearied the Mountain Goats or their fans. Since 2003 the extraordinarily prolific John Darnielle has toured Australia (rotating troupe of band members in tow) as regularly as he’s put out albums, and on Sunday night’s show at the Metro there were no shortage of fans seeing him for their fifth, sixth or seventh time. Two things were apparent by the end of the Mountain Goats’ set – that John Darnielle is a performer of extraordinary generosity, and that his fans are more than willing to take everything he’s giving and make it their own.
At what other gig will you see blokes fist pumping and finger pointing with furious conviction to acoustic guitar driven folk rock, and friends swaying, arms around shoulders in the wide-eyed crowd, singing along with joyous abandon to darkly anthemic ballads about child abuse, mental illness and domestic rage?
The audience’s devout adoration is palpable the second Darnielle appears on stage and begins with the warm, gentle build-up of For Charles Bronson. Between every line his smile beams through the crowd and by Damn These Vampires and Birth of Serpents, he is bounding around the stage with barely contained energy and joy. The fervent admiration of the audience has ramped up and imploded into sheer elation, the crowd now feeding off each other as much as they are off the band. Darnielle looks at the audience through geeky glasses and sweat soaked hair and shakes his head, grinning. “Seriously, great fucking audience… I’m gonna be telling people about you guys for quite sometime”, he says, and he sounds utterly sincere.
It’s this sincerity that endears his fans to him. His anecdotes, some metaphorical, some candid, all of them touched with his poignant humour, flow generously throughout the night. There is plenty of laughter, and an intensely observant silence as he shares several new songs with us from the piano – the solemn White Cedar and the exuberant The Diaz Brothers, which he explains was inspired by watching Scarface with his infant son.
Darnielle has an incredibly rich catalogue of songs to delve into, and at one point he digs out 1994’s Love Cuts the Strings for the die-hards, but for the most part this was a please-all set drawing heavily from The Sunset Tree and Tallahassee, two of The Mountain Goats’ finest moments The bleak, gorgeous Game Shows Touch Our Lives is startlingly triumphant, the crowd roaring the lines “People say friends don’t destroy one another / what do they know about friends?” back at Darnielle with telling veracity. By the time he’s wrenched the desperately passionate last lines of International Small Arms Traffic Blues from his vocal chords, the set is coming to its close, but the energy in the room is at fever pitch. The encore is rapturous – three all-time favourites ending with The Best Ever Death Metal Band Out of Denton. Darnielle pummels his guitar to exhaustion, inciting the crowd to raise Satan’s horns to the high heavens during that delirious “HAIL SATAN” refrain. Looking around for something else to do with all his manic energy, he leaps behind the keyboard, bashes the final chords of the song out of it, then takes a last look at the audience, smiles his wide crazy smile, and leaves.
The Metro show was one of those rare events where audience and performer both, at times, seemed equally overcome with gratitude for the other’s presence. Even if, or perhaps especially if you were seeing John Darnielle for your eighth time that night, you were left astonished by just how damn much this guy gives. His immeasurable generosity manifests itself in a contagion of joy, and in those moments where every strained lyric and every fist pump expresses the singular, shared experience of everyone in the room.