Literate, intimate, and atmospheric, The Mountain Goats are ideally suited to the Union Chapel, and with new album Heretic Pride due early next year, the excitement preceding the critically acclaimed though commercially undervalued Americans is palpable.
No doubt the upbeat atmosphere owes something to the fact that people are just pleased to be in the venue. A huge queue left those with online tickets in the rain clutching increasingly damp and seemingly meaningless pieces of paper, having paid for the doubtful privilege of not seeing Emmy The Great or Alasdair Roberts in one of London’s most distinctive live music venues.
When John Darnielle and Peter Hughes arrive on stage, a masterclass in geek chic, they do so to rapturous, if slightly soggy, applause. Opening with a moving and heartfelt version of Wild Sage from 2006’s Get Lonely, the duo set a high standard that they raise with the laconic, atmospheric, and creepy Tollund Man, the story of ritual sacrifice reverberating around the cornices of the chapel.
Two rousing new songs have the audience pounding their feet in the pews, and though some of the lyrics are lost in the louder moments, this is a rare slip up in sound quality for the Union Chapel. The levels come back down for Love Love Love, in which Hughs and Darnielle’s bass, guitar and harmonies come together for a moment of almost sacred wonder, the bittersweet lyrics of sacrifice and reward resonating not just with the chapel but with everyone inside, uniting the audience with the line “Some things you do for money and some you’ll do for fun, but the things you do for love are gonna come back to you one by one”.
After such a great live-music moment, the duo did well to maintain momentum, but they did so with a giddy, swirling new track apparently written by a jet lagged Darnielle in Sweden, which bodes well for the new album.
Picking some favourites from the most recent four albums, the set is more crowdpleaser than showcase, and the better for it. Each song received more warmly than the last. Interspersing the tracks with brief but rambling anecdotes, the duo seem to be having as good a time on stage as the audience are watching them.
Art Brut‘s Eddie Argos, being held to a drunken promise, joins the duo onstage for an endearingly ramshackle The Best Ever Death Metal Band to Come out of Denton and a fitting finale to a wonderful set.
Micah P Hinson is on next, but no matter how much you love his Texas drawl and dark country, he’s not going to better The Mountain Goats – a late contender for live show of the year.