The Mountain Goats’ John Darnielle has never been one to shy away from heavy-themed albums, with many of his recordings revolving around stories drawn from his own experiences of abuse, addiction, and mental illness. At first glance, then, an album about professional wrestling (the recently released Beat the Champ) might sound like fluff material in comparison. Yet a closer look at the album’s thirteen tracks reveals stories about murder (“Stabbed to Death Outside San Juan”), stabbing someone in the eye (“Foreign Object”), and an old wrestler deteriorating in his final years (“The Ballad of Bull Ramos”). Weighty stuff.
When the band brought the album to a sold-out crowd at the 9:30 Club last Wednesday night, though, it was clear that Darnielle has managed to connect with his audience. There is a certain catharsis to be found in his lyrics with which everyone in the audience, even though they may not have been through the experiences that he draws from, is able to relate. But lest that all sound too heavy, the band seemed to be having more fun on stage than just about any other touring band out there.
Darnielle smiled and joked with the audience and enthusiastically introduced his songs. Drummer Jon Wurster, ever the comedian, makes faces and exaggerated movements while effortlessly keeping the beat. Bassist Peter Hughes bounces energetically around the stage with an energy that seems almost antithetical to his plaid suit. The fun was infectious. Along with tracks from the new album, the band’s 21 song set included numerous fan favorites such as “Up the Wolves,” “Game Shows Touch Our Lives,” and “Maybe Sprout Wings.”
Flock of Dimes, the solo project of Jenn Wasner of Wye Oak, was added on as a last-minute opener to the show when a member of the previously scheduled opening band, Ides of Gemini, suffered an injury and was unable to perform. Though, as Wasner noted, her music was just about as opposite as it was possible to be from the original band’s doom metal, the audience received her set of new songs (works in progress toward an eventual album) enthusiastically.
All photos by Matt Condon. Click to embiggen.