The Mountain Goats at Varsity Theater, 10/24/12

The Mountain Goats at Varsity Theater, 10/24/12
Photo: Briana Bierschbach.

The Mountain Goats
Varsity Theater, Minneapolis
Wednesday, October 23, 2012

John Darnielle doesn't appear to be getting tired, which is pretty incredible, given it's now been more than 20 years since the Mountain Goats composer put out the band's first cassette, and he's released something like 25 albums of various length and medium in the meantime.

But it's become increasingly clear -- especially in his most recent works -- that Darnielle is no longer the same guy who recorded all those lo-fi, one-man albums in his basement so many years ago. The songwriter alluded to this Wednesday night at the Varsity Theater, at one point dismissing his song "Going to Georgia" -- off 1994's Zopilote Machine -- as "misogynist garbage."

See Also:
Mountain Goats work the crowd at the Cedar

And not only has Darnielle added a drummer and bassist to the equation over the years, but we now have a three-piece horn section, which also appears on his new album, Transcendental Youth.

As Darnielle demonstrated at the Varsity, change isn't necessarily a bad thing, even if the original product is a masterpiece. Last night's show had all the elements of a standout performance, and, even with Darnielle's later-career direction, all the ingredients that have always made the Mountain Goats a standout band: passion, spontaneity, personality, imperfection, and just the right amount of humor.

All of these came together during Darnielle's rare live performance of, "The Last Day of Jimi Hendrix's Life," a two-minute song off the 1999 album Ghana, about all the inane things Hendrix probably did in the hours before his death. ("He adjusted the knobs on the shower til the water came out just the way he liked it/ it was hot but not too hot/ it was hot but not too hot.") A certain highlight of the night, the song is silly -- maybe even stupid -- but also undeniably brilliant, and proof that Darnielle is not only capable of drawing inspiration from a paper bag, but it still translates to a beautiful live performance more than a decade later.

The Mountain Goats at Varsity Theater, 10/24/12
Photo by Briana Bierschbach

The horn section also proved an enjoyable addition to the Mountain Goats live show, both during songs off his new album, and in adding energy to his older work. A legit mosh pit almost broke out during a lively rendition of "Palmcorder Yajna," which, while we're sure has probably happened at a Mountain Goats performance at least once or twice, would have been a pretty amazing sight, given the genre.

Another high point came at the end of the night, when the band emerged for a second encore to play a piano version of "The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton," off the 2002 masterpiece All Hail West Texas. There's really nothing quite like watching a room full of mostly college kids throw devil horns in the air and scream "Hail Satan" repeatedly to a bespectacled guy in a sport coat playing an upbeat piano song.

But perhaps the most impressive element of the Mountain Goats show was that Darnielle appeared to be having more fun than anyone else in the building. And after more than two decades with this band, that's pretty goddamn amazing.

Personal Bias: We Shall All Be Healed is my favorite album about meth.

The Crowd: A lot of college students, at least one pirate, and a crowd of older fans.

Overheard in the Crowd: "Perform a seance!"

Random Notebook Dump: College nerds.

Set list:
Love Love Love
Psalms 40:2
Harlem Roulette
Hast Thou Considered the Tetrapod
Until I Am Whole
Amy AKA Spent Gladiator 1
Up the Wolves
Dance Music
You're in Maya
The Last Day of Jimi Hendrix's Life
You Were Cool
Color in Your Cheeks
Ezekiel 7 and the Permanent Efficacy Of Grace
Diaz Brothers
In Memory of Satan
White Cedar
Cry for Judas
Palmcorder Yajna
Spent Gladiator 2
Transcendental Youth
Next Year
Best Ever Death Metal Band out of Denton

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