American indie trio The Mountain Goats hit up Badlands Bar last Thursday as part of their 2017 Australian tour. Jai Price reviews.
Oh Pep! certainly lived up to its name; a duo of pocket rockets who deconstructed the audience with their unusual instrumentation and intricate musicianship. Any band with an exclamation mark in the name is bound to be something special, right? Lead vocalist and acoustic guitarist Olivia Hally’s vocals were heavily reminiscent of Martha Wainwright, a sharp edge tempered with a light wailing quality. Her partner, Pepita Emmerichs, was an intriguing figure, utilising both mandolin and violin to add a discordant, maudlin air to the venue. The women were as charming as they were talented, Hally beseeching the audience to give Emmerich’s positive reinforcement as she shredded on her mandolin. The women’s’ vocal stylings complemented each other well, like the tomato sauce and cheese that rests atop chicken schnitzel to create chicken parmigiana. The easygoing mesh of traditional and eclectic set the stage for an evening of off-kilter antics and barbed witticisms.
There was something incredibly rewarding about seeing four men in suits hammer out a performance that was sweet as a nut. The Mountain Goats truly made the stage its own. Lead singer John Darnielle was mesmerising, eliciting laugh after laugh from the audience with his long, rambling song backstories. The most extravagant of these was for Heel Turn, prefaced with a two-minute spiel about “babyfaced” professional wrestlers being pushed to the limit, and breaking all the rules to compete with their rebellious kin. When introducing Broom Song, Darnielle lamented not adding an ‘e’ to the end of ‘broom’, showing a welcome nugget of local knowledge.
The bespectacled maestro was a multi-armed multi-instrumentalist, thoroughly enjoying his brief stints on the keyboard, looking like an excited kid at Christmas. When he wasn’t smashing the keys, he was strumming up a storm on his acoustic guitar, getting a clear and deep sound that swept over the audience like a sultry tide. Saxophonist, flautist, rhythm guitarist and bearded benefactor Matt Douglas was the glue that held the band together, his smooth tones adding a chilled vibe. When it was folky and reflective, such as during In Memory of Satan, the band commanded respect. When it was chugging along like a steam train on a one-way acid trip, its boundless enthusiasm was infectious. No Children was a darkly humorous affair, as Darnielle’s voice took on a sardonic tone as he sang “In my life/I hope I lie/And tell everyone you were a good wife”. The bass plodded back and forth, while the keyboard wove its way through the utterly unhealthy but ultimately charming atmosphere. Darnielle is truly a master of his craft.
Bizarre lyrical fantasies alongside saintly folk rock allowed The Mountain Goats’ performance to soar, feeling less like a scene between crowd and band, and more like meeting between old friends. The best display of audience interaction was during the encore, fan favourite This Year, when Darnielle went right up to the line between audience and stage and outstretched his arms to them, like some middle-aged messiah. It was one of those concerts that transcended the realm of musical acts; it was a full-blown performance of personable bandmates, stellar sonic sounds, and darkly amusing lyrics combining to make an immensely pleasurable evening that won’t soon be forgotten.
-Pics by Michael Franz