Twenty-plus years and 17-odd albums into the Mountain Goats’ prolific career, songwriter and raconteur (not to mention novelist and podcaster) John Darnielle is as restless and energetic as ever.
Though on record the Mountain Goats – once an ultra-lo-fi solo recording project – are now a well-established four-piece, for these two sold-out shows at the Brudenell they’re a duo of Darnielle and multi-instrumentalist Matt Douglas. And rather than this restricting them, it gives them room to not only explore but reinvent the band’s vast back catalogue, opening up space where once frantically-battered acoustic guitar was the order of the day.
Even a brand-new song like Younger from latest album In League With Dragons gets revisited in jazzier vein to showcase Douglas’s smoky saxophone skills, while in an inspired move, excellent support act Laura Cortese and The Dance Cards, a trio of singing string players, are drafted in as backing band in the second half, where new songs like Doc Gooden blend in alongside roof-raising classic Up The Wolves. And Wear Black even sees Darnielle surrender the stage to Douglas for a brief solo piano interlude.
But there’s still plenty of the frontman’s trademark intense delivery, where it seems as though an erudite university professor and a teenage punk nihilist are both wrestling to the death for control of the same set of vocal chords. Darnielle muses that he took a walk in a grey November Leeds park before the gig “to the delight of my inner 17-year-old Goth”. So of course, their ode to all things Gothic and Northern, Andrew Eldritch Is Moving Back To Leeds, gets the cobwebs dusted off, to rapturous response.
Eldritch remains absent, but the Mountain Goats’ warm affection for city and venue seems to have made their sold-out visits an annual tradition – this first night gig ends as ever with the crowd taking over most of the vocal duties for a sweat-drenched No Children and This Year. Long may it continue.