The Mountain Goats - Brudenell Social Club Leeds, UK - Gigs - Reviews - Soundblab

The Mountain Goats - Brudenell Social Club Leeds, UK

by Andy Brown Rating:10 Release Date:

Some things just creep up on you and it really is hard to believe that the Mountain Goats have been going, in one form or another, since 1991. The band started out as John Darnielle’s solo project but have grown and expanded over the years while managing to produce a whopping 15 studio albums and a whole heap of singles, collaborations and Ep’s. Undoubtedly one of America’s finest indie outfits, tonight’s sold out Brudenell show is a testament to all that hard work and the fan-base they’ve built over the years.  

Before the band take to the stage we hear the chimes of a ringside bell, followed by some typically excitable American commentator bestowing the virtues of Rick Flair. Stood next to me there appears to be a couple in brightly coloured wrestling outfits, the guy proudly sporting a full Mexican style mask. All of this would seem rather bizarre if it wasn’t for the Mountain Goats most recent album, Beat the Champ.

Darnielle’s latest batch of songs has centred around the world of professional wrestling, drawing out universal themes of hardship and struggle through the songs narratives while also managing to make me care about something I haven’t really thought about since I was 13. With his sense of humour very much to the fore, Darnielle introduces these particular songs by filling us in on some wrestling terminology, telling us about ‘heels’ and ‘faces’, ‘foreign objects’ and 'royal rumbles’. The songs themselves are fantastic too; triumphant, inspired and impressively fresh for a band in their 24th year.

Darnielle is a conduit of energy and enthusiasm as he throws his head back, grins and routinely bounces from one side of the stage to the other. The songs are, at varying points, accompanied by sax, clarinet and piano; the band sounding fuller and more confident than ever. ‘Cry for Judas’ crackles with an irrepressible positivity as Darnielle delivers his trademark witty, defiant, often dark but always intelligent lyrics (“mistreat your altar boys long enough and this is what you get”). It’s been a long time since I’ve been to a show where so many people are singing along at the top of their voices and within the reasonably intimate surroundings of the Brudenell it’s an undeniably powerful experience.

Half way through Darnielle delivers a short but emotionally charged solo, acoustic set. One song is dedicated to a former teacher who took Darnielle under her wing when living at home was no longer possible, she passed away the night before and tonight’s tribute is incredibly touching. Darnielle also plays ‘Soft Targets’, explaining that this was when people, not buildings, were targeted. Only a few days later the memories of this song take on an even greater significance.  

The full band returns for the second half of the set and a rousing encore. Darnielle chats to the audience, singing the Brudenell’s praises and advising everyone to go and see 80s goth types Theatre of Hate before launching into a defiantly victorious, ‘This Year’ (the whole crowd singing along with the band, “I am gonna make it through this year if it kills me”).  As if things couldn’t get any better the band play their divorce ballad, ‘No Children’ and as a full room of people join in to sing the strangely uplifting tale of a couple in romantic turmoil (“I hope you die/I hope we both die”) I realise that this has easily been one of the best gigs of the year. 

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