Indie-rock band The Mountain Goats — headed by John Darnielle — performed at Paper Tiger to an enthusiastic crowd last Friday. The band played a variety of songs, shifting from widely familiar to more obscure before ending with their hits in response to an encore chant.
The Mountain Goats’ fans are generally the kind of people who are willing to contend with a humid, low-ceilinged venue and a persistently noisy air conditioner clicking intermittently in the background. As someone who spent most of her high school years listening to Darnielle’s voice looming over the sound of him punishing his guitar’s strings, the endearing intimacy of Paper Tiger’s atmosphere — perspiration and all — completed the aesthetic.
The concert itself opened with Al Riggs, whose gentle folk-rock and vaguely familiar voice warmed us up nicely for The Mountain Goats’ performance. This warm up was especially notable given the transposition of Riggs’ varied, soft instrumentation to a boisterous four-person rock band setup. While Riggs’ live setup was different from usual, they did retain their lyrical emphasis on seeking shelter from hardship and dour circumstances.
Darnielle almost followed a similar pattern as he performed songs with his band that were originally recorded solo — though only two of the songs were “old enough to vote,” to borrow a phrase Darnielle used during the concert to introduce “New Star Song.” Darnielle said numerous pithy statements to introduce songs, such as when he introduced a duo piano version of “Wear Black” with an anecdote from his youth and “In Memory of Satan” with a short speech about collecting oneself after a long time of misguided solitude.
Darnielle has always focused on the ways different people cope with personal issues through his music. More recently, this theme had manifested in explorations of subcultures based in media, like watching professional wrestling or being young and goth — the latter being the basis of The Mountain Goats’ most recent LP, “Goths.”
It makes sense that, a year after the release of “Goths,” The Mountain Goats’ “No Shield Except the Skin” tour would retain the vibes that “Goths” had celebrated. This encompasses, namely, the Blackletter typeface of the merch, the metal music that played as the band entered the stage and the subsequent initial emphasis on rock songs that resolved on minor chords and made persistent reference to enduring internal turmoil.
The thing about this setlist is that only one song is off the album “Goths.” Of the 19 songs played, 12 different albums were represented. Approaching this setlist as an intentional curation of Darnielle’s vast oeuvre results in an essay contrasting the paranoia of dying and being forgotten in “The Diaz Brothers” with the trauma of growing out of an abusive situation in the preceding “Hast Thou Considered the Tetrapod.”
The energy that was most palpable during The Mountain Goats’ performance was of fun in the face of darkness. Throughout the concert, Darnielle smiled repeatedly as the crowd sang along with his dark and morose lyrics.
When you’re swaying along with the crowd, the inherent humor of a roomful of people joyously screaming, “Sink my teeth into your scalp, take a nice big bite / Save nothing for the cameras, play the angles all night / One of these days my legs will both snap like twigs / If you can’t beat ‘em make ‘em bleed like pigs,” becomes almost overwhelming. That Darnielle introduced the famously pessimistic “No Children” as a song “about hope” to close off the show plays up the tonal absurdity of this concert even further.
Usually, playing The Mountain Goats is seen as one of those things you do when all your friends are having a good time with you and you want to change that. But if you came out for this concert, I hope you enjoyed watching four dads in business casual shouting and sweating profusely as much as I did.