The Mountain Goats just finished a sold-out four-night run in New York City, two shows at Music Hall of Williamsburg and two at Bowery Ballroom.
On the third night, the first at Bowery Ballroom, Matthew E. White opened, as he will for this entire tour. White, who arranged the horns on the new Mountain Goats album, Transcendental Youth, was a fantastic opener. He and his collective of eight fellow Richmond, Va. musicians are something of an indie reincarnation of The Band. The Dixieland jazz of “One of These Days” is the easiest to slap on comparisons, but most of his music meanders between innovative and classic.
The warm horn swells and bar-room piano often lead to the unexpected. The jangly keys of “Big Love” gave way to congas and heavy bass. After a percussion-heavy breakdown, White’s guitar, which sometimes takes a backseat to the other instruments, led a huge flairup. “Big Love” and “Brazos,” the closer of the set, were wild jams. White took a lot of risks on his debut record, Big Inner, and he’s continuing to push it farther on stage. He was the perfect opener, but White and his band are too talented to stay in the support slot for long.
When the Mountain Goats came onstage and began playing “Love Love Love,” the crowd softly echoed every word. The quiet opener was followed by the new upbeat “Harlem Roulette,” during which John Darnielle‘s guitar began cutting out. Once the problem was fixed, he exchanged a quick glance and shoulder shrug with bassist Peter Hughes and drummer Jon Wurster before jumping in again.
After “Heretic Pride” and “The First Few Desperate Hours” (which Darnielle claims was the closest he ever came to giving the fictional characters in his divorce fable Tallahassee a nice day), they took a request from the crowd and played “San Bernadino.” Darnielle ditched his guitar and sang over the bubbling bass line and drum brushes, before adding a few twinkling piano notes.
They played two more new songs, “Amy aka Spent Gladiator 1” and “Until I Am Whole,” before Wurster left the stage. Darnielle and Hughes played “Dance Music,” in which the crowd let out a resounding cry of “I don’t wanna die alone!,” before Hughes left as well.
Darnielle played a handful of solo acoustic songs, including a cover of Wye Oak’s “Civilian.” He also did a rare rendition of “Sax Rohmer #1,” which he warned could easily turn into a disaster. He called it a “long-overdue request” for a fan in the audience who had donated money to hear it played at a benefit concert in North Carolina, but whose car broke down on the way. Darnielle claimed the lack of a clear narrative made the song easy to forget but he made it through with a little help from the audience.
Wurster came back to play “Ezekial 7 and the Permanent Efficacy of Grace,” before Hughes rejoined for “The Diaz Brothers.” The horn section from White’s band, dubbed by Darnielle “The Transcendental Trio,” came out to play three songs from the new album, “In Memory of Satan,” “White Cedar” and “Cry for Judas.” Hughes played a fretless bass which added a smooth, jazzy tone to the songs. They finished the set with “Up the Wolves” and “No Children.”
The band was rejoined by the horn players for “Transcendental Youth” and “This Year” in the first encore. The latter was almost overwhelmingly joyful, especially with the added horn arrangement. When called back for a second encore, they covered Nothing Painted Blue’s “Houseguest,” written by Darnielle’s friend and collaborator in the Extra Lens — Franklin Bruno.
But they saved the best for last. The final song of the evening was “The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton.” The crowd was fired up and let loose cries of “Hail Satan!” in step with Darnielle. The music was great, but when the audience is so involved, it becomes unforgettable.