Mountain Goats, Live

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Mountain Goats, Live @ The Spitz London reviewed

John Darnielle, the Mark E Smith of alt-country, is in London tonight to promote his tenth album in ten years, 'Tallahassee', his first for the legendary 4AD label (Pixies, Cocteau Twins...). The stakes are high but the Mountain Goats main man hardly seems worried as he bounds on stage to an adulatory welcome from the assembled 200-300. Many of those present are Americans, converts to a cult hero.

In all his guises, (he also performs as the Extra Glenns) Darnielle's music places the emphasis on the narrative. He is a story teller reciting tales of failed love and enduring hate, an author of letters from an alternative America.

Mountain Goats, Live @ The Spitz London reviewed  @

The new record is based on the concept of what Darnielle calls "the alpha cycle". That is a couple on the brink of inevitable divorce who are fatalistically acting out the death throes of their marriage. He sings with meaning, these are the products of his experience.

Engaging stuff in a world of trite lyricism but shouldn't the music come first? The Mountain Goats play high octane, fast paced country that Darnielle has described as being "essentially punk rock". After the first few songs the harshness of the vocals has begun to grate, there is insufficient subtlety to maintain interest, all blinding light no shade. Within such a simple framework (guitar plus bass), these delicacies are paramount. On the new record more instrumentation has been used than previously, but having returned to the bare bones tonight newies like 'See America Right' and 'International Small Arms Traffic Blues' slide into the self same morass as their forebears.

When their short set ends The Mountain Goats leave the stage to frenzied cheers, cult status assured. Mass appeal, however, will remain elusive.

Alistair Hann