Originally published in The Declaration October 2016
“If you don’t mind, send sad vibes, because I’m having a good time and we’re about to do a sad song,” said lead singer/guitarist Olivia Hally, introducing the song “Trouble Now.” By this time, of course, we were having too much fun to settle down. Even the group’s more downbeat odes to lovelorn frustration were at least headbob-worthy. “Tea, Milk & Honey” is another one well-worth checking out.
Hally’s voice—low and warm at times, with a smooth falsetto on top—is pleasant enough, but the impeccable vocal harmonies (contributed by all three other band members) elevated the performance to another level. Overall, Oh Pep! gave one of the better opening performances I’ve ever seen—and as I soon overheard at the bus stop after the show, I wasn’t the only one who thought so.
The Mountain Goats—bassist Peter Hughes, drummer Jon Wurster, and guitarist/pianist Matt Douglass—took the stage to Boz Scaggs’ “Gimme the Goods.” As the song faded, Wurster took up a pounding rhythm while Hughes beat out a grimy, distorted bassline. Finally singer/guitarist John Darnielle emerged from backstage, shouting his lyrics as the group launched into “Supergenesis,” a grim recollection of the Fall of man which forebodes: “Someday, someday the call will sound / we all, we all are gonna get up from the ground.”
This apocalyptic vision continued the night’s theme of good times and sad vibes, and it was only the beginning. Known for his narrative songwriting and affable stage persona, Darneille played a set that was maybe the most diverse of all time, if we’re counting song subjects.
There were songs about God; songs about drugs; several about professional wrestling; one about game shows, alcoholism, and true love, all at once; even one about Ozzy Osbourne.
A highlight of the show was “Psalms 40:2.” The song, according to Darnielle, was inspired by a chapel in Missouri which recreates the Stations of the Cross with the images of Precious Moments figurines. The band was charged with rapturous energy—more than you’d expect from middle-aged men in blazers—as he sang “In the burning fuselage of my days / Let my mouth be ever filled with praise / He has fixed His sign in the sky / He has raised me from the pit and set me high” with frightening intensity over furious acoustic guitar strumming.
The group’s sound was diverse as well. Alongside these fiery numbers, there were a few purely acoustic songs, plus plenty of quieter, at times jazzier tunes featuring Darnielle on piano and Douglass on saxophone. “Lakeside View Apartments Suite” and “Southwestern Territory” were standouts in the latter category.
The band played a few fan-favorite songs in a stuffed double-encore set, including “No Children,” the darkly humorous and deeply human story of a marriage on the rocks (“I hope you die—I hope we both die”) and “This Year,” a song about the sweet but fleeting Saturday escape from your stepfather’s house. The floor of the theater shook as the crowd jumped and shouted along with Darnielle: “There will be feasting and dancing / in Jerusalem next year / I am gonna make it through this year if it kills me.”
There is no shortage of interesting stories to be told about life, and Darnielle tells maybe as many of them as any one human can. Life is infinitely messy, chaotic, heartbreaking, and at times, so beautiful you could cry, and burst out laughing at nothing at all. The Mountain Goats’ music is a testament to this, and so is their live show. If you get the chance to see them, see them.