Judging only by The Mountain Goats' lyrics, or indeed the prominent presence of social activism on the band's Twitter feed, you might not immediately picture frontman John Darnielle to be a middle-aged, white American cis male. Certainly, he might be the only person to fit that criteria and still sing convincingly about unicorns ('Unicorn Tolerance'), fangs ('The Grey King And The Silver Flame Attunement') and whatnot, on the band's new album Goths, released earlier this year. On this tour, Darnielle is accompanied only by multi-instrumentalist Matt Douglas, which does not seem like a bad decision given Darnielle's charisma and enthusiasm, and the intensity he demonstrates on stage. Combined with Douglas' subtle charm, this brings a great intimacy to the show.
The three opening songs build up the atmosphere before an excellent five-in-a-row, starting with 'Unicorn Tolerance', one of the best songs off Goths, 'Get Lonely' from the 2006 album of the same name, 'You Or Your Memory', which has never sounded this good before, 'Dilaudid', too rarely heard live, and, of course, given the city we are in, 'Going To Utrecht'.
These are not the only highlights of the night, however. The unrecorded song 'We Shall All Be Healed' - which Darnielle points out to the audience has been performed in multiple different forms during Mountain Goats' concerts - takes this time a jazzy, melancholic shape with Matt Douglas showcasing his true saxophone talent. Followed by a version of 'Lakeside View Apartments Suite' that continues along the very same lines, the entire crowd seems almost hypnotised. B-sides rarely get the attention they often deserve from their creators, but Darnielle admits his appreciation of 'New Chevrolet In Flames' which could have allowed for an album inclusion – something its live rendition certainly confirms.
Summing up what The Mountain Goats are largely about – sadness, depression, being on the edge – but also newfound positivity and joy of the little, or bigger, things in life, 'Woke Up New' and 'This Year' end proceedings almost too soon, even if after checking my watch it's closer to two hours after the set kicked off.
Darnielle and Douglas make one more return to stage, with supporting act Skylar Gudasz making her way through the crowd to join them in 'Wear Black', which gives the song a certain edge that is perhaps lacking on the album version of the song. And when the crowd joins to chant ”hail Satan!” in the chorus of the set's final encore, 'The Best Ever Death Metal Band In Denton', I think everyone agrees that we've just enjoyed a Darn good concert.