published: 6 /
While often only basic in their singing skills and guitar ability, Chris O' Toole finds both witty and inspiring a performance from the Mountain Goats, the group led by Indiana-based musician John Darnielle, at the KOKO in London
For a man with only the most rudimentary singing voice and implausibly basic guitar ability John Darnielle sure can put on one hell of a show. As Mountain Goats – tonight supported by Peter Hughes on bass and drummer Jon Wurster – the Indiana-native is capable of not just entertaining, but delighting a thousand strong audience with little more than his quick wit and perceptive, careworn songs. He is an everyman for the modern era; conjuring tremendous pathos from the rudimentary building blocks at his disposal.
For many the converted baroque Koko theatre would be a daunting venue, but not for Darnielle. From the moment he steps on stage he flits between keyboard and acoustic guitar with a boyish enthusiasm, genuinely pleased to be able to share his work with his fans. There is not the slightest pretence to the performance as Darnielle – who doubles as a humorous raconteur – introduces each song with a spinning narrative. Each is greeted with a knowing nod from the adoring crowd, who are delighted to sing along to every word.
Material from every era of the twenty-odd-year Mountain Goats’ recording career is included – and it is evident how little the core material has changed over time. Through his songs Darnielle attempts tp understand the world around him, sharing his insights for any who care to listen. Work from the autobiographical 'The Sunset Tree' album receives the loudest cheers, as well as tracks from breakthrough albums 'Tallahassee' and 'We Shall All Be Healed', before the show proper finishes with 'This Year'. It’s not often a song about escaping an abusive step-father can create such a rousing finale, but that is the magic of the Mountain Goats, find the poetry in the most mundane of everyday events.
Despite the communal atmosphere of the gig, Mountain Goat fandom can be a solitary affair; a second bottle of wine, a wry smile in the dark while meandering through the fog of memory. Surprising, then, that everybody has selected the same track – of the 400 plus written – as their favourite. 'No Children' is as an unlikely a hit as Darnielle is a folk hero – featuring the lyric: “I hope you die/I hope we both die” – but as the first chords ring out during the encore the evening of every fan is complete.
Darnielle also maintains – believe it or not – an obsession with death metal bands. The lightning rig on display at the Koko would make Led Zeppelin blush, while the crowd are not afraid to throw the horns as the occasion demands. As the final encore closes with fan-favourite 'The Best Ever Death Metal Band out of Denton' the crowd is practically in raptures. A truly inspiring performance from a band who inspire nothing short of biblical devotion from their fans.