Shepherd's Bush Empire, London, 19/11/2015
published: 8 /
Daniel Cressey watches Americana act the Mountain Goats play a bleak but compelling show at the Shepherd's Bush Empire in London to promote their latest album 'Beat the Champ' on which front man John Darnielle’s songwriting focuses on the professional wrestling world
Tonight’s show starts - like a fight bout - with a bell. And then an extended intro of wrestler Dusty Rhodes talking about hard times. Rhodes - aka The American Dream - died earlier this year after a career that built him up as a champion of the common man.
It is hard not to think that paying tribute to the death of the American Dream is a deliberate act from a band whose greatest songs have similarly taken a ground level view of America, and have never shied away from bleak. And of course the Mountain Goats’ most recent record - 'Beat the Champ' - wrapped up a myriad of other subjects in the guise of songs detailing the travails of various wrestlers.
But from this unlikely base metal, the Mountain Goats made musical gold. The best bits of that album are the highlights of this show - a crowd singing along to ‘I Will Stab You in the Eye with a Foreign Object’ or ‘I Don’t Wanna Die in Here’. Band frontman John Darnielle looks like he can barely believe it when his completely unnecessary gambit “This is a song about professional wrestling” draws cheers from the crowd.
There is time to sing other material, with his school-misfit song ‘You Were Cool’ getting an airing in response to a crowd request, before we delve even further into the huge Darnielle back catalogue with ‘Going to Marakesh’. (Some audience assistance with remembering the lyrics is required for the latter.)
But much of the night is taken up by wrestling songs and Darnielle spends much of the night looking gratefully amazed that not only did he get to write a whole album on this topic, but an entire venue full of people turned out to hear him sing songs from it, but on this evidence they would have been fools not to.