The Mountain Goats leave sold-out crowd wanting more in Ithaca

Review: Despite a lively showing, the Friday night concert at The Haunt ended disappointingly.

North Carolina-based folk rockers, The Mountain Goats, played a sold-out show at Ithaca’s nightclub The Haunt on Friday, sampling songs from several records on their 14-album discography, including their latest release Transcendental Youth.

Solo artist Matthew E. White opened the show to a mostly distracted audience. Having only released his debut album Big Inner back in August, it was clear that the crowd packed into to the hot, tiny venue longed to see singer-songwriter John Darnielle and Co of The Mountain Goats. The crowd, most of which appeared to be older college students and people under the age of 30, generally hung out by the bar or out on the deck, paying little attention to White’s 45-minute set.

White left the stage by 9:50 p.m., and by 10:15 p.m. the crowd was getting restless. Minutes later, Darnielle, bassist Peter Hughes and drummer Jon Wurster took the stage clad in suit jackets. The trio started right in on their first song of the evening with no introduction: “Love Love Love” off of 2005’s The Sunset Tree.

For the next hour, Darnielle stayed mostly quiet, letting the music speak for itself. The crowd was mesmerized, swaying along and even mouthing the words to tracks off Transcendental Youth, which was released on Oct. 2. Between songs, Darnielle alluded to his former job as a psychiatric nurse, revealing that much of his newest album reflects the tragedy he encountered during that time. With melodies that were often upbeat and Darnielle’s energetic stage presence, the misfortune of the lyrics isn't easily noticed. 

He was able to joke about dark and difficult subjects, drawing praise and laughter from the crowd. Darnielle prefaced the quiet “Dino Lipatti’s Bones” with a joke about his forgone 16-year-old romance saying, “We dyed our hair black and did a lot of drugs,” and then transitioned from his acoustic guitar to his keyboard for the haunting “Ezekiel 7" and "The Permanent Efficacy of Grace.” Darnielle threw his glasses off in the middle, while one man directly below his keyboard looked on intently, mouthing every word.

Despite the solemn nature of the song, however, people in the back of the bar continued to talk, which Darnielle tried to laugh off. “If, like me, you have some voyeur tendencies, you can listen to the people at the bar who won’t stop talking during the quiet parts. I know who’s going home with who in Ithaca!” he joked.

Despite his humor, the talking clearly annoyed Darnielle, who played for six more songs with noticeable glares in the direction of the bar.

For the last two songs, White’s instrumental band, The Transcendental Trio comprised of a trumpet, clarinet and trombone, joined the band on stage. “Hast Thou Considered the Tetrapod” was introduced with another look into Darnielle’s past — “This is about a period in your life when you worship Satan” — and “See America Right” finished the band’s set.

Less than a minute later, however, Darnielle was carried back on to the stage by clapping and yelling, accompanied by his band and the Transcendental Trio.

“Play all the songs!” someone yelled from the crowd. “All of them!”

The first encore featured two songs off Transcendental Youth and the fan favorite, “This Year,” which sounded superior to the album version with the brass accompaniment. One man in the crowd threw his head back and sang along, his hand on his heart: “I am gonna make it through this year, if it kills me.”

Blowing a kiss to the crowd and saying goodnight, Darnielle left the stage again. Most people continued clapping, knowing that Darnielle wasn’t done yet. He still hadn’t played the band’s most popular song, “No Children" off the album Tallahassee.

Rather unsurprisingly, Darnielle, Hughes, and Wurster were back on stage minutes later for a second encore. With a short intro on the keyboard, Darnielle launched into an unexpected song: “The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton” off the widely acclaimed concept album All Hail West Texas. The crowd was thrilled. “HAIL SATAN!” everyone screamed back at Darnielle as the song ended, making devil horns with their hands. With that, the singer left the stage.

Many looked on in disbelief that the set had ended, and annoyed murmurs took over the room with many saying that they waited for “No Children” to no avail. The track is almost a given at most shows by The Mountain Goats. At the end of a two-hour, 22-song set that got better and better as the night went on, Darnielle seemed to want to punish the talkers in the back who interrupted him throughout the night. Despite Darnielle’s playfulness during the show, the lack of “No Children” and its sing-along nature that unites the frontman with his audience really put a damper on the night. 

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