By Sarah Stortz
In a pitch-black Englert on Sept. 13, the hymns of an orchestra murmured, with a devoted audience sitting in silence, waiting for the magic to begin.
Around 9 p.m., red and blue fluorescent lights shone on four men in black suits walking on stage, picking up their instruments. As main vocalist and guitarist John Darnielle strapped on his acoustic, The Mountain Goats assembled to perform for the Iowa City crowd.
Formed in 1991, the band is an indie-folk outfit from Claremont, California, distinct for its emotionally driven and straightforward lyrics. Over the past two decades, it has released 16 albums, many of which carry distinct themes and tell vibrant stories. The group is on tour promoting its most recent album, Goths, which was released in May.
According to the event program, the album consists of “songs that approach an identity most often associated with youth that is inescapably adult.”
That rings true for Mountain Goat fans, and a multi-generational audience came together for the night to witness vocalist Darnielle’s quirky style of storytelling through song.
Despite being dressed in formal wear, Darnielle gave the audience a free, laid-back performance by walking barefoot and jumping around to the beat of his guitar on stage.
The exuberant nature of the concert was further amplified by percussionist Jon Wurster wildly flailing his sticks and bassist Peter Hughes accompanying Darnielle in his stage dancing. Keyboardist Matt Douglas displayed his vast musical talent by playing jazz.
Switching from the keyboard to guitar to his pure vocals, Darnielle poured his emotions out for the audience to experience, singing about his experiences, whether they’re lighthearted or heart-wrenching.
In a few instances during the performance, Darnielle stood around, strumming his guitar, trying to select a song from his extensive music history.
Fifty minutes before the Goats, Samantha Crain helped excite the audience with her opening act. She takes from experiences and uses straightforward lyrics in her music, similar to The Mountain Goats.
Near the end of her performance, she asked the audience, “Do you guys ever feel like you over-share?” After only seeing a few hands raised, she responded, “Come on, you’re at a Mountain Goats concert; you have to over-share.”
The electrifying energy remained through the concert, even at the supposed end. The spark refused to die for more than a half hour, with the audience chanting for an encore after the band concluded.
All the members returned to the stage, ready to appease the crowds demands. With Darnielle fiddling with his guitar, he went to talk about a popular song he wrote he couldn’t stand. That flowed to a performance of “No Children.” The band concluded the night by performing “This Year,” arguably its largest hit. Within a minute of the song, patrons formed a mob in front of the stage, clapping and singing along to the beat.
“You sounded good, Johnny,” one audience member yelled.
“Thank you,” Darniel shouted as he exited.