The Mountain Goats
Cambridge Hotel, Newcastle
The first-ever Antipodean jaunt for a drum-equipped Goats was meant to happen some months ago, but got bumped for personal reasons; when the rescheduled version ended up having an extra show three hours out of town (for half the price), it seemed an appropriate enough excuse to check out the recovery of Sydney’s northern neighbour. Last time I came up to a gig and actually spent some daytime in town (as opposed to hammer up and hammer back the highway) was early 1997 – to see a secret Beastie Boys show as Quasar at the same dodgy pub – the city was crushed and wilting from the collapse/withdrawal of the mining co.s. Can’t say how business may have recovered, or if the then-disproportionate student population has just been sticking around and repopulating the place, but the urban reclamation of the waterfront is a fucking wonder. A bunch of shitty overpriced seafood restaurants on a docklike boulevard, sure, but the actual design of the new buildings, joining and embracing swimming beaches, new tourist areas, old residential, new hotels, the main drag and a central public transport hub is wonderful to see. Bless ‘em and good luck.
The show? My #1 hope of Wurster’s addition leading to extended WFMUesque banter-joke-improv with head Goat John D. wasn’t realised, and I can’t say that the extra rock power improved the experience – but it was good to see something different from the last several tours just for difference sake, and the moments of heads-down rocking-out suggested that some kind of power-trio acousto-metal sideproject could be a valuable outlet.
Oddest problem was the complete absence of any kind of lighting man, apparently even during the day: softer colour cans aside, there was only one stronger white light onstage, and it pointed resolutely at bassist Peter Hughes’ amp all night – when he stepped back, he was fully illuminated, but the lead singer and only between-song talker remained in facial darkness the entire set. It didn’t do much to facilitate the musician/audience dynamic that typically makes a Mountain Goats show. Neither did the band room layout, for that matter, which saw one entire side of the room curve away and open up in multiple doors to the outside smoking area, which itself opened onto the street with free, unpaid, gratis access.
Still, Darnielle powered through the set with something similar to his usual enthusiasm, and having not come to the city before, was persuaded to break out No Children in the encore. There was an indie disco in the other side room afterwards: we opted for the highway/hammer interface with assistance of V and Cherry Ripe [sponsorship spaces on this blog available]