Arts & CultureEventsMusic

The Mountain Goats bring sorrow, memories and hope to the Crystal Ballroom



Photos and reporting contributed by Hannah Steinkopf-Frank.

For the Mountain Goats, a concert in Portland is like a hometown show. Although he almost died of a drug overdose when he lived in the City of Roses in the 1980s, lead singer and songwriter John Darnielle still ended the show by saying “I will always love this city.” Darnielle used his negative memories of Portland as an influence for the group’s recently released 16th studio album, “Goths.” During his June 4 show at the Crystal Ballroom, he and the band turned the music into a joyous affair, with Darnielle exploring the depths of his musical archive with a new, welcomed jazz vibe.

Despite the band’s musical prowess and classy suits, Darnielle bared all on stage. He performed with an untucked undershirt, without shoes and unabashedly relied on sheet music that never seemed to be in the right place. The first third of the show largely featured material from “Goths.” The new songs carry an emphasis on the group’s music, rather than just Darnielle’s lyrics, which allowed drummer Jon Wurster to play with free-flowing force. Bassist Peter Hughes and multi-instrumentalist Matt Douglas also added their characteristic flourishes in each song.

Before “The Grey King and the Silver Flame Attunement,” Darnielle told the story of how he once passed a Pontiac that “was probably cool at the time” on the highway in West Covina, California. The driver was joined by three women. The driver smiled at Darnielle, revealing that his teeth were sharpened into vampire fangs. Having come out of a recent vampire phase himself, Darnielle realized that maybe he was not as hardcore as he once thought.

Alone on stage, Darnielle played a handful of acoustic songs without prior planning. Whatever audience request sounded best to Darnielle made its way into the set, including “So Desperate,” “Trans-Jordanian Blues” and “Song For My Stepfather.”

Darnielle was relaxed, happy and energetic all night. He routinely jumped around the stage, willed the crowd to sing along and high-fived fans near the front of the stage. The band fed off his energy and delivered an emotionally draining but elated set.

The Mountain Goats ended with two encores that encompassed Darnielle’s emotional range as an artist: first the live-through-this anthem “This Year” and the uncontested best divorce song ever written, “No Children.” As dire as it may sound, it was with fervor that Darnielle sang to the audience (who screamed right back), “I hope you die. I hope we both die.” Nowhere else do death and divorce sound so charming.

“Goths” incorporates jazz into the band’s catalog. The Mountain Goats perform at McMenamins Crystal Ballroom on Sunday, June 4. (Hannah Steinkopf-Frank/Emerald)

Singer John Darnielle sings with joy on Sunday. The Mountain Goats perform at McMenamins Crystal Ballroom on Sunday, June 4. (Hannah Steinkopf-Frank/Emerald)

Darnielle, wearing a suit and no shoes, commanded the band. The Mountain Goats perform at McMenamins Crystal Ballroom on Sunday, June 4. (Hannah Steinkopf-Frank/Emerald)

John Darnielle combined his songs with personal stories, giving his already rich lyrics further meaning. The Mountain Goats perform at McMenamins Crystal Ballroom on Sunday, June 4. (Hannah Steinkopf-Frank/Emerald)

John Darnielle jumps as Peter Hughes (bass) approaches center stage. The Mountain Goats perform at McMenamins Crystal Ballroom on Sunday, June 4. (Hannah Steinkopf-Frank/Emerald)

John Darnielle high fives the crowd after the first encore break. The Mountain Goats perform at McMenamins Crystal Ballroom on Sunday, June 4. (Hannah Steinkopf-Frank/Emerald)

John Darnielle used his time spent living in Portland as inspiration for “Goths,” the band’s 16th studio album. The Mountain Goats perform at McMenamins Crystal Ballroom on Sunday, June 4. (Hannah Steinkopf-Frank/Emerald)

Although there are no guitars on “Goths,” Darnielle fronted the band, playing both guitar and keyboards on the new material. The Mountain Goats perform at McMenamins Crystal Ballroom on Sunday, June 4. (Hannah Steinkopf-Frank/Emerald)

John Darnielle performed the majority of the show with an ear-to-ear grin on his face. The Mountain Goats perform at McMenamins Crystal Ballroom on Sunday, June 4. (Hannah Steinkopf-Frank/Emerald)

Holy Sons opened the show with a set that confronted his personal demons. The blues guitar player said he used to work at the homeless shelter on Burnside in Portland.  (Hannah Steinkopf-Frank/Emerald)


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Craig Wright

Craig Wright

Craig is the senior arts and culture editor for the Emerald. He is from West Linn, Oregon, and is a senior majoring in journalism at the UO. He has made Nick Frost laugh and has been deemed to be "f---ed up in the head" by legendary thrash-metal band Slayer.