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    It’s been 11 years since the last time I stepped foot in Headliners Music Hall for a live show. The last time I was here it was for my very first show, the Hieroglyphics Full Circle Tour featuring Del the Funky Homosapien. Back then, it was a two hour drive in a borrowed car to the venue. Now I’m back once again to see one of my all-time favorite artists, The Mountain Goats. 

    The Mountain Goats are currently in the middle of an international tour in support of their latest album “Beat the Champ”. Last Tuesday (April 21) they made a stop at Headliners to showcase their latest offering.

    "Beat the Champ," from beginning to end, is an entire album dedicated to the theme of professional wrestling. That may sound odd to anyone not familiar with lead singer-songwriter John Darnielle, but to most fans of his work, it seems only natural that Darnielle would devote an entire album to the entertainment niche. So it was only fitting that when the lights dimmed in anticipation of the band’s arrival to stage, in darkness, a sound bite of a wrestler giving a chaotic, emotion filled speech, blasted over the sound system.

    And as the recording of the wrestler’s speech was finally cut, the Goats entered the stage to an eruption of applause, much like I imagine the wrestler on the recording would in his heyday. Immediately, the band starts off with a taste of their latest offering with the somber track “Stabbed to Death Outside San Juan.”

    This is the second time I’ve seen the Mountain Goats perform and if there was one thing I took away from the my first live encounter with them, it’s that their fans are some of the most dedicated I’ve experienced. It’s not uncommon to find a fan base that will sing along with every word as though it’s been engraved into the back of their head, stored away like cold-war era missiles ready to be launched at the arrival of command. But with Darnielle’s fabled and extensive catalog and the obscurity of some of his earlier lo-fi offerings, it would be ridiculous to expect most fans to know every word.

    And yet, word for word, without missing a step, the crowd chimes in and matches Darnielle’s.


    “And the sky goes dark,

    and there I am

    Climbing down the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram"


    For the first half, the Goat’s mainly cover material from their new album, occasionally throwing in a classic or two like “Get Lonely” and “Cry for Judas.” One of the greatest treats of seeing Darnielle perform live is the dialogue that ensues between and at the beginning of tracks. These are the moments where you gain new insight into some of your favorite songs that you’ve been singing for who knows how long.

    Here John explains that a “heel” is a bad guy in the wrestling world, whereas a good guy is referred to as a “face” or “babyface.” But often times, a bad guy will redeem himself through a storyline and become a good guy. When this happens, it’s called a “heel turn." And with that, the Goats dive into the new track “Heel Turn 2”.


    Following Heel Turn 2, the rest of the band leaves the stage as John takes a seat at the piano and explains that the next song is about an average guy who is a plumber by trade. A plumber that is content with his life, but one day wakes up to find that his lover is gone. John continues describing the circumstances of the plumber’s life and impending journey to find his lover and as it unfolds it becomes obvious that the story is about Mario. And with that he begins to play “Thank You Mario But Our Princess Is In Another Castle,” probably the only time the story of Mario has ever seemed both equally romantic and comedic to an adult observer. After John’s solo, the rest of the band rejoins the singer as they tear through mostly older tracks for the next eight songs or so, sneaking in the newer “Luna” in the middle. And with that, they announce that the next song would be their last for the night, and then begin to perform “Amy AKA Spent Gladiator.” As before, the crowd follows suit.


    “Do every stupid thing that makes you feel alive,

    Do every stupid thing to try to drive the dark away”

    As the Goats finish the song, to a roar of applause, they thank the crowd and exit the stage through the back. But this is a Mountain Goats show, and not a single soul moves from their place. No one is taking the bait, we all know they’re not finished, we won’t allow that and they wouldn’t either. The international sign for the show ending is the house lights coming up; darkness wouldn’t dare leave the venue in this moment. So to a great roar, the Mountain Goats walk back onto the stage, and with that they begin to belt out the single, “The Legend of Chavo Guerrero,” off their new album. An upbeat, fast tempo song, the crowd rips into the chorus.

    “Look high,

    It's my last hope,

    Chavo Guerrero,

    Coming off the top rope”

    The Goats then play “This Year,” one of their most commercially known tracks. As the song ends, the band thanks the crowd once more and exits the stage. And as before, the crowd’s energy simply won’t allow that to be the end. Once again, the band comes back on stage and begins to perform the broken marriage, passionately morbid and playful “No Children.” The Goats follow it up with “Spent Gladiator 2.”

    And with that, The Mountain Goats make their finale exit from stage to a passionate applause.


    As the house lights come up and the crowd slowly begins to shuffle away from the stage, I spot a fan that I struck up a short conversation with earlier in the show while taking pictures. Earlier she had told me that this was her first time seeing The Mountain Goats. She said that she drove four hours from Columbus, OH, to see the show because the one in Columbus, which was a few days later, was sold out.  I asked her how she liked the show.

    She responded , “I’m still not ready for it to be over”. 


    Photos by Elliott Carter

    Elliott Carter's picture

    About Elliott Carter

    I recently relocated to the fine city of Louisville. I love biking around the city, skateboarding, craft beer and exploring the hidden/forgetten gems of the city and state. Wu-tang forever.

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