Friday night, infamous folk rock band The Mountain Goats made a stop in Minneapolis to play a high spirited set at the historic downtown venue First Avenue. Opening up for the Mountain Goats was the dazzling Shana Cleveland, best known as the frontwoman for California surf rock band La Luz who recently embarked on a solo career. Seeing the flock of people lined up eager to get into the venue was a good indication that the conditions for this show were just right. As the Twin Cities hit 80°F for the first time in almost nine consecutive months, the spirit of summer was finally coming to fruition. For Minnesotans, finally being able to shake off the cold and warm our bones calls for a reason to celebrate. And what better way to do so than with good music and friends gathered in the mainroom?
The anticipation for The Mountain Goats return to Minneapolis was undeniable. Originating in Claremont, CA, The Mountain Goats have been making passionate, influential folk music since the early 90’s. With catchy hooks, sharp lyrics and straightforward guitar playing, it’s hard to ignore the influence that The Mountain Goats have had in the alternative rock music scene over the years. One of my favorite examples comes from local songwriter Craig Finn, who fronts Twin Cities’ favorite celebratory rock band The Hold Steady. In the song “Girls Go For Status”, Finn directly references the Mountain Goats song, “This Year” with the line, “It was song number three on John’s last CD… I’m going to make it through this year if it kills me… And it almost killed me.”
The Mountain Goats have also stylistically influenced punk rock bands such as AJJ, and Against Me!. Against Me! frontwoman Laura Jane Grace frequently covers The Mountain Goats song “The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton”, which by doing so has conceivably introduced many younger, newer bands and fans to the music of The Mountain Goats. Fellow folk rock band AJJ (formerly Andrew Jackson Jihad) has a sound directly reminiscent of The Mountain Goats, and frequently covers their song “This Year”. Just few of the many instances The Mountain Goats’ influence has seeped into the creative vein of other singer-songwriters.
Being such a prolific band, it’s no question why The Mountain Goats show at First Avenue was filled to the brim with people.
Kicking the night off was the beautiful and intriguing singer-songwriter Shana Cleveland. Cleveland is a Seattle based musician, artist, and writer who most notably found success as the frontwoman for Los Angeles rock band La Luz. In April 2019, Cleveland released a solo record titled Night of the Worm Moon, which percolates sounds of soft pop, jazz, indie rock, and intergalactic stupor. She prides herself in creating a warm sound which can mentally transport the listener into a different dimension. Much like her music, Cleveland’s set at First Avenue was hypnotic-esque and entrancing. She was incredibly entertaining to watch on stage, and displayed a confident presence that was hard to look away from. Cleveland had no problem transporting the audience right into her artistic realm. It was a very intriguing set and I am interested to see where she goes next in her blossoming music career.After Cleveland dazzled the audience, it was time for The Mountain Goats to take the stage. Being that it was a late Friday night, plenty of people had found their way through the doors and packed the house. The Mountain Goats members took turns entering the stage before lead singer and guitarist John Darnielle walked out to the sound of deafening applause. Beaming at the warm reception, Darnielle began to throw colorful pink, red and yellow roses into the audience before distributing the flowers to band members on stage. This act of generosity incited a soft “aww” from the crowd.
The Mountain Goats came out as a full band and powered through a number of songs before leaving keyboardist Matt Douglas and Darnielle as the sole members left on the stage to play together. They performed beautifully, and after a few songs, it was time for Darnielle to play solo. It was really cool to see Darnielle on stage armed only with an acoustic guitar and a microphone with no band behind him. I feel like great singer-songwriters best showcase their chops when it’s just them and an acoustic guitar – no frills. It feels incredibly authentic. After a few solo songs, including a lively cover of “There is Power in a Union”, Darnielle was then joined again by the full band for the rest of the set and an encore — in which they played a 22 song set.
The Mountain Goats featured many different flavors of soft songs, slow songs, fast songs and loud songs. When the band began to play the first notes of a recognizable crowd favorite, the audience would immediately erupt and scream so loud I couldn’t hear the band. I honestly can’t remember the last time I was at a show and heard such deafening applause and positive reception from the crowd. Cheering with almost everything they had, it was absolutely magical to witness.
Overall, watching The Mountain Goats perform live for the first time helped me understand why so many bands and artists have dabbled on the coattails of Darnielle’s songwriting and performance. The band is simple, but so effective in capturing people’s spirit. These songs are anthems. They are people’s way of getting through the day to day. And after nearly 30 years, the band has remained loved by many. With dancing, cheering and singing engulfing the audience, this was such a feel good night.
If you have never seen The Mountain Goats perform live, I suggest making it a priority the next time they come to town. With an incredibly tight and dynamic set at First Avenue, the problems of the world will seem much more manageable with the newly administered sense of folk rock community.
We are gonna make it through this year, if it kills us.