Mountain Goats work the crowd at the Cedar

Categories: Concert Review

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Photo by Nick Vlcek, click here for slideshow.

John Darnielle came back for a "bonus track" Saturday night at the Cedar, the sold-out house cheering him on after a rousing version of "This Year" had finished the first encore. When he returned alone to the stage, the mastermind behind the Mountain Goats chose to play the Hold Steady's "Positive Jam," even though he couldn't remember how the song went.

Playing a song by the local favorites was more than a gimmick on Darnielle's part. For the better part of two hours, he and his North Carolina ensemble had held the audience captive. Now, as he fumbled through one last number, laughing and debating the lyrics with the front row, it was an opportunity for his fans to join in the fun.

Not that they hadn't been in on the fun to begin with. Throughout the night, Darnielle bantered frequently between songs, at times explaining their origins and at others spinning non sequiturs around them. He spoke with a self-deprecating sense of humor, jokingly referring to the seriousness of his musical narratives as "tawdry" and wryly introducing one of his songs by saying, "Here's another lovely little number about terminal illness and other things that won't go away...."

Indeed, the Mountain Goats' work often details tales of spiritual emptiness and everyday grotesquerie, littered with drug addicts, broken marriages, and biblical disasters. Yet Darnielle's stage presence, and the enthusiasm with which he threw himself into the music, helped emphasize the compassion with which he approaches his characters, and the optimism and humor inherent in his band's work.

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