John Darnielle is more than a singer-songwriter. He’s a movie buff who testifies to the genius of The Mechanic, a storyteller who rambles about the time his friend went to jail and a medic. “Is everything OK?” he asks as a “disaster” occurs toward the front of the crowd. After all is considered well, he continues, “I’m not really a good person, it’s just reflexes.” Apparently this is just a side effect of years spent at nursing school.
The fans all know that Darnielle really is a good person. He laughs with them, converses and plays their shouted-out song requests. Even when he claims to have forgotten how to play the older ones, the fans cheer him on. This is the second night of the Mountain Goats‘ sold-out three-night residence at the Bowery Ballroom, and it’s clear that the love of performing has not left the group. Darnielle loosely strums his guitar, tilting his head as he leans into each note, then pulls back from the mic to lean forward and move to the music. He and bassist Peter Hughes turn to each other with huge smiles on their faces, playing at one another and creating a contagious energy.
It’s an energy that’s been strong since the Mountain Goats was founded by Darnielle in 1995 with a revolving cast of characters standing in with him. When he moved to Chicago, he began playing regularly with Hughes, the second constant in the lineup, then added Superchunk drummer Jon Wurster in 2007. The consistency has served the group well, as its albums continue to go in new directions and each proves itself to be better than the last.
The trio becomes a quartet on the road, adding a keyboardist to keep Darnielle on the mic and the acoustic guitar, but also pares down to just Darnielle himself. The Bowery set balances between new tracks off of the recently released All Eternals Deck as well as old favorites such as “Home Again Garden Grove,” “Seeing Daylight” and “Song For Dana Plato,” with commentary by Darnielle in between each song highlighting inspirations and various pop culture references. The singer leads most of the conduct between songs, but Hughes delivers his own dry humor here and there. It’s a well-seasoned dynamic cultivated by playing and recording as just the two of them for more than 10 years.
When Darnielle speaks to the crowd, it’s as if the words can’t come fast enough. As he sets up a story, his sentences become one long word, slowing down to enunciate the most important parts. He compares his onstage banter to that of Dudley Moore in the original Arthur film as he has his own asides off the mic that only the people in the front can hear. He does however speak directly into it to inform everyone that he will do everything in his power to stop the remake of said film. But for nice guy Darnielle, this amounts less to sabotage and more to holding some crystals and sending bad vibes.