The Belasco was packed full of anxious fans. The sea of humanity was shoulder to shoulder, eagerly awaiting The Mountain Goats arrival onto the stage. Frontman John Darnielle took the stage, dressed in a light-colored jacket and dark, sparkly shirt, backed by a full band. A large backdrop with a possum draped the back of the stage with the phrase “Once more unto the breach,” a line from their song “Possum By Night.”
The band started it off moody, with the slow build of “An Antidote for Strychnine” from their latest album In League with Dragons. The song opened with Darnielle singing lightly over just a keyboard, before building into a full-on rock song. They followed up with another new one, “Younger,” which took full advantage of the backing band, with a driving bass line, that propelled the song forward. The song culminated with an extended sax solo.
The next two songs were older cuts. The first, “Cry for Judas” is a zydeco-tinged track that appeared on the album Transcendental Youth in 2012. “Your Belgian Things” followed and brought down the mood a bit, which gave the audience a breather. Before launching into “In League with Dragons,” Darnielle said he thought everyone should have their own Revenge Dragon or Protector Dragon. “Sax Rohmer #1” came next and the claps at the top of the song ignited the crowd. Everyone in the audience knew the words and sang along.
At this point, the rest of the band walked off, leaving only John and Matt, the keyboardist, alone stage. Darnielle launched into a lounged-up version of “Wear Black” during which he pounded his chest and did exaggerated hand gestures as if he were channeling Celine Dion.
Matt stood and walked off the stage, leaving John alone with his guitar. John admitted that this point of the concert is different every night, and admitted that he had a hard time deciding what to play. Not missing a beat, he launched into “Surrounded” an obscure gem from the 2009 EP entitled Moon Colony Bloodbath. He played one more song on the guitar, “Color In Your Cheeks,” before moving to the keyboard. At this point, he jokingly asked if there were any requests and immediately someone in the audience yelled, “Just Do It.” Darnielle laughed and said that has to be one of the worst company slogan of all time. “What if someone asked your advice and you said Just Do It” John laughed, “That could lead to some serious problems, no matter what situation you are in.” He finished up his solo set with “Autoclave,” which turned the whole venue into a full-on audience sing-a-long.
The band rejoined for the song “In Memory of Satan” and brought the tempo back up. The Mountain Goats then played a couple more tracks off their new album, including “Waylon Jennings Live!” and “Clemency for the Wizard King.” But the high point of this part of the set was when the band played “Cotton.” As soon as the first few notes hit, the audience exploded into cheers. They followed up with the song “Sicilian Crest” which Darnielle said he was dedicated to his 16-year-old self. He explained that having grown up in Claremont, California, he often drove to venues like the Belasco to see his favorite bands.
The band took a brief respite before returning for an eight-song encore, which started off with “Liza Forever Minnelli.” These final songs hit a lot of crowd favorites like “Broom People,” “Up the Wolves” and an epic version of “Possum By Night.” Before playing “Passaic 1975” Darnielle revealed the origin of the song was from a story he read about Ozzy Osbourne, who once missed a show and then somehow woke up in the wrong hotel room.
When “This Year” hit, the entire audience was lifted off their feet, as they shouted along and jumped up and down. The final song, “Going Invisible 2” began with a low throb before it evolved into an anthem, with the entire crowd singing “Burn it all down and sweep up the ashes.”
The high/low dynamic, and the way it was broken into sections really gave the show structure. After the house lights came up, I heard more than a few people complaining that the band neglected to perform the song “No Children” from their 2002 album “Tallahassee.” This was a sentiment I also shared, but then again, who can really complain about a 2-hour plus, 25 song set?