Published Sep 07, 2019The Mountain Goats never fail to bring high spirits to their live shows, and Friday night at the Commodore Ballroom was no exception.
Opener Lydia Loveless is often called alt-country, but there was nothing alternative about her solo and acoustic set. Unfortunately, her meat-and-potatoes songwriting wasn't enough to hold everyone's attention. "There's nowhere in the world I'd rather be," she sang on "Bilbao." She probably would have preferred being in front of a crowd that didn't talk over her.
To their credit, everyone close to the stage appreciated her sometimes-cheeky, always-personal tunes. As for everyone else, she pushed past their noise with hard strummers like "Real" and "Mile High." She also showed off her voice on those songs, belting over some incessant chatter.
The Mountain Goats had the audience's rapt attention from beginning to end, especially when wordsmith singer John Darnielle introduced their songs. He explained "The Recognition Scene" as a reference to the narrative moment that exists in everything from Greek tragedies to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, when the characters realize they're fucked. John dropped Ozzy Osbourne trivia ahead of "Song for Black Sabbath's Second North American Tour" and "Passaic 1975."
Whether John spoke or sang, fans hung onto his every word, proving there's no sing-along like a Mountain Goats sing-along. It didn't matter whether the band rocked it with "Cry for Judas," "Werewolf Gimmick" or "Sax Rohmer #1," or played tenderly with "Wear Black" or "Passaic 1975."
And speaking of sax, all the band members — bassist Peter Hughes, keyboardist and saxophonist Matt Douglas and drummer Jon Wurster — played with finesse, but Douglas stood out. He showed off his sax skills on "Cry for Judas" and "Younger." He also accompanied John, who was otherwise solo, with a long keyboard intro on "Wear Black."
Throughout the night, John bunny-hopped, bounded from one side of the stage to the other and sang his guts out. Any other front person would have removed their jacket after a handful of songs, but John sweated through his salmon pink blazer until the very end of their set.
John was more sedentary during his moments alone onstage. Besides the aforementioned "Wear Black," these highlights included "Woke Up New," "Song for Black Sabbath's Second North American Tour," "The Recognition Scene" and "In Memory of Satan."
John began their six-song encore by joking about covering classic Canadian punk band NoMeansNo, from nearby Victoria, BC. But the Mountain Goats played "Love Love Love" instead, one of the night's most impassioned sing-alongs. But it wasn't as impassioned as perennial favourite and logical set closer "This Year."
To some music fans, though, six songs is too long to be considered an encore: more than three and it's part two of the set. The Mountain Goats honoured any such fans in the crowd, returning for one final song. For the "true" encore, the band played "Going Invisible 2." With the simultaneously optimistic and pessimistic line "I'm gonna burn it all down today and sweep all the ashes away" still echoing in fans' heads, the Mountain Goats said their thank-yous and vanished for a second and final time.