In just over one year of existence, The Crescent Ballroom has hosted a list of established bands to Phoenix ranging from Santigold, M83 and X. The music venue and nightlife “hotspot” has acted as an apropos brick-walled backdrop in its short-lived tenure in the Valley; providing a poetic soundtrack for the gentrification that slowly creeps over the horizon, with the construction of residential super-complexes and the expansion of ASU’s downtown presence. But let’s forget about all of that for a while and just enjoy the music.
The Crescent Ballroom is a great place to do just that. And on December 8th, the Mountain Goats gave substance to that statement with their folksy yet melodic brand of indie rock. Goats’ front man, lyricist, composer and core presence John Darnielle displays an enthusiasm, stage presence and talent that was only complimented by his equally impressive band of bassist and drummer (Peter Hughes, John Wurster) that he didn’t want to refer to as the “Mountain Goats,” but did anyhow.
Credibility—the main product of Darnielle’s two decade plus year career with an instrument in hand and a song on his tongue, that originally sparked from urgency and was recorded onto cassettes, has now transformed The Mountain Goats into a legitimate musical identity. Their 14th studio album Transcendental Youth
was released last October 14th and this Crescent performance witnessed a generous eight tracks from this latest recording, along with many other favorites.
Musically, The Mountain Goats were spot on as Darnielle’s quirky, witty banter served as a wonderful transition in between songs, even though the elephant-in-the-room vibe as a result of the inattentive collective mood of the audience was less than satisfying. The performance saw Darnielle move between guitar and electronic keyboard, as he conveyed jittery life worn stories, reflecting his fragile psyche. Although this triggered nervous laughter from the audience, they were soon calmed by Darnielle's songs of redemption and hope.
The crowd was no fun and any good vibes coming from the stage were immediately smothered by the audience of wannabe weekend warriors. Darnielle reflected upon his younger days of ripped knees and rock-n-roll rebellion before diving into “In Memory of Satan,” from Transcendental Youth
. The audience responded with a collective, “Wooo!,” re-crossed their arms and returned to a cathartic head bob.
This lack of crowd energy was not from lack of good tunes— clearly the Goats’ had these in high supply as they graced the Crescent with a three-song encore, including fan favorite “This Year.” Darnielle even extended himself later to mingle with fans after the show and sign merchandise.
So to digress, it’s not like anyone there was visibly having a bad time. “They’re pretty humble. I like that they [the Mountain Goats] engage the crowd,” a fan remarked at the end.
"John Darnielle's song writing is incredible...He is one of the best literary lyricists out there...[His] degree in English makes for some amazing lyrics," another fan said after the set.
In conclusion, the music was, for lack of more descriptive words…..”great.” It was the strum of the guitar, the key of the piano and the collision of Americana and rock-n-roll that is, the Mountain Goats. Should we have expected any less? Setlist
Amy AKA Spent Gladiator 1
Love Love Love
Up the Wolves
Until I Am Whole John Darnielle Solo
Absolute Lithops Effect
Woke Up New
Jeff Davis County Blues
Ezekiel 7 and the Permanent Efficacy of Grace
The Diaz Brothers
In Memory of Satan
Cry for Judas
First Few Desperate Hours
See America Right
Spent Gladiator II
Photos by Jon Jenkins