Leeds has bigger venues (First Direct), it has more intimate venues (Santiagos), it has edgier venues (The Key Cub), but there’s nowhere with the feel of the Brudenell Social Club. Its got the kind of quirky character that makes it a haunt for old-timers and students alike, and makes it a must-play for any band that has ever been mentioned in the same sentence as the word, ‘hipster’. Not surprisingly then, it’s a favourite UK venue for Claremont lo-fi titans The Mountain Goats, the lifeswork of John Darnielle – a man who since the passing of Mr. Leonard Cohen last year is a bold claimant to the title of ‘Worlds Greatest Living Songwriter’.
As the evenings set begins, the room is plunged into darkness, and a wave of 70’s guitar rock ushers in tonight’s incarnation of the Mountain Goats, a group which has taken many forms over the years, and tonight is incarnated in the form of its founder, frontman and lyricist John Darnielle, accompanied by Matt Douglas on the sax.
‘This is my favourite home’ Darnielle says to the baying first-night crowd, before launching in to ‘Have to Explode’.
[contentblock id=141 img=adsense.png]
For all that tonight is about promoting ‘Goths’ the Goats well received sixteenth album, only a couple of tracks – the fatalistic, doom-steady ‘Rain in Soho’ being the best – get a play tonight. Its about the Goats triumphant return to their beloved Leeds rather than a run-of-the-mill album push. ‘This is a song about Olympic wrestling, Darnielle says to an uproarious cheer, launching into ‘The Ballad of Bull Ramos’ from 2015’s spectacular, ‘Beat the Champ’.
The beauty of a Mountain Goats set is that Darnielle has amassed such a vast back catalogue of poignant lo-fi that he could fill three or four setlists without compromising quality, and is always able to sneak in some welcome surprises. If we miss out on fan favourite, ‘Going to Georgia’, we’re treated to a hauntingly beautiful, ‘Lakeside View Apartment Suite’ on the piano.
Of course, with the release of Goths still fresh on everyone’s mind, and the two sold-out Yorkshire dates marking the Goats popularity in the city, it was a given that Goths third track, ‘Andrew Eldritch is Moving Back to Leeds’ would make an appearance in tonight’s set. ‘I’ve been waiting to play this one here since I wrote it,’ says Darnielle. Whilst it certainly holds plenty of cultural relevance as Yorkshires capital, this wonderfully gruff, cold, rainy town rarely gets name-checked in songs. There’s something truly special about seeing it given the honour here.
In honesty, Darnielle doesn’t seem like a showman at first impression. He’s understated, prone to non-sequiturs and looks a great deal like a high school English teacher. But watching him in his element, especially without the backing band which has become standard at 21st century Mountain Goats shows, really underlines why the Goats fanbase never wanes, and only seems to increase. Darnielle meanders between wryly funny and breezily poignant, while the tracks are contextualised with introductions that have the feel of passages of spoken word.
‘Alibi’ marks one of the evening’s longest throwbacks, and most comical moments – Darnielle promising to play the dusty track if someone can Google him a set of lyrics. ‘Of course they’re on Genius, they’re my lyrics’ he says wryly, and though he’s quick to assure the crowd he’s not that narcissistic, it’s honestly a more than fair observation. Blasting out an old tune with smartphone aid, pausing to name-check a TS Eliot reference is a brilliant and utterly Goats-y highlight of the gig, and stands to the longevity of their career, though some old-school fans might well be perturbed by Darnielles fading memory. ‘Jenny’ an underrated ‘Texas’ era Goats track ends the solo section beautifully.
The agonizingly acerbic set staple, ‘No Children’ – the one song they likely couldn’t get away with skipping – is greeted with deafening cheer, and pleasantly pre-luded with an unexpected origin story, before Darnielle officially closes the set with a triumphant rendition of, ‘Up the Wolves’.
‘Every town has clubs, and every town has good clubs, but not everywhere has a place like this,’ Darnielle states solemnly, ‘Sacred and wonderful’ is Darnielles assessment of the Brudenell, and likely many a fans assessment of the night. ‘This Year’, the beloved blast of optimism from 2002’s, ‘The Sunset Tree’ is a punchy crowd sing-along, Darnielle jumping around the stage in the evenings most energetic moment.
‘Best Ever Death Metal Band Out of Denton’ is selected as the nights true close – a fairly surprising choice, but one that has the added bonus of hundreds of Northerners cheering, ‘HAAAAIL SATAN!’ in unison.
A Mountain Goats set anywhere will likely be one of the musical highlights of your year. A Mountain Goats set at the Brudenell, with Darnielle treating fans like friends, and performing songs tailor-made for the city – even more so.