“Sorry it took us so long to get down here,” said Mountain Goats frontman John Darnielle after his first pair of songs last night at the Culture Room in Fort Lauderdale. Darnielle’s erstwhile one-man alt-folk band has playing shows since around 1992, making it more than 20 years of touring places like Sweden, Belgium – even Canada before ever playing a show south of Orlando. (Since 2002, I’ve driven to nearly all the Florida shows and some in other states, and let me tell you – it’s a relief to travel 10 minutes to a Mountain Goats concert rather than four-plus hours).
And if last night’s show proved anything, it’s that Darnielle has a hungry audience in South Florida that can pack a room, shout along to every word when appropriate and stand in silent, awestruck solemnity during the ballads. The energy in the room last night was palpable, resembling very much a cult’s minions hanging on every syllable from their leader, which is exactly the correct atmosphere at a Mountain Goats show.
As usual, Darnielle and bass player Peter Hughes appeared dressed for work other than performing live music, with Darnielle in a tan blazer over a pink button-down and Hughes in a suit and tie fit for a corporate board meeting. More than once, Darnielle took the time to praise us, saying things like “You guys are f***ing incredible,” and “That was so special for me,” after playing the most moving, austere versions of “Wild Sage” and “Ezekial 7 and the Permanent Efficacy of Grace” I’d heard onstage.
These two songs joined “Never Quite Free” in a three-song keyboard set of methodical material in the middle of the show that, were it a lesser act, may have brought the energetic concert down to a screeching halt. But in this immaculately structured show, these halting emotional exorcisms functioned as the slow movement in a fine symphony, the weighty meat in a sandwich of song-along crowd-pleasers.
Other highlights included the catchy, “Scarface”-inspired “The Diaz Brothers,” a keyboard number reinterpreted for guitar; and “Tallahassee,” a guitar number gorgeously reinterpreted for keyboard. I appreciated the depth and obscurity of the set list, from the ancient “Song For Mark and Joel” to the under-appreciated “Absolute Lithops Effect,” songs that rarely turned up on set lists prior to this tour. Thanks to my request, I might add, we even got “Going to Dade County,” a hilarious song about a hallucinatory fever dream that generated a rousing response after its reference to the eponymous home county. And don’t get me started on “Alpha Chum Gatherer,” a song that even I did not know – a fantastic barn-burner that was left on the cutting-room floor from 2002’s “Tallahassee.” (In fact, an entire album of “Tallahassee” B-sides would make a spectacular EP).
Opening act the Baptist Generals re-took the stage for the Mountain Goats’ encore, joining Darnielle and Hughes for a rendition of “The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton,” complete with cymbals, maracas and tambourine. The show ended like all Mountain Goats shows should – with a roomful of people thrusting devil horns in the air to impassioned, ironic cries of “Hail Satan.” Awesome.
Linda Blair Was Born Innocent
Absolute Lithops Effect
The Diaz Brothers
Going to Dade County (my request!)
Song for Mark and Joel
Love Love Love
Ezekial 7 and the Permanent Efficacy of Grace
Never Quite Free
Alpha Chum Gatherer
Alpha Rat's Nest
Ox Baker Triumphant
It Froze Me
Up the Wolves
Color in Your Cheeks
International Small Arms Traffic Blues
The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton