Mountain Goats Mix Catharsis and Humor at Pearl Street

John Darnielle’s Mountain Goats fanbase is so devoted that when he said something onstage Tuesday at Pearl Street in Northampton about having recently written a bunch of Mountain Goats songs that will never get released, there were people in the crowd who wanted to hear them — all of them. Darnielle wisely kept to just one, voicing his suspicion that others who had paid for tickets wouldn’t be thrilled if he played nine songs in a row they had never heard before.

As it was, he trotted out plenty of live rarities, performing by himself with an acoustic guitar for more than 90 minutes. The fact that Darnielle doesn’t often perform many of the songs he included on his set list occasionally made for rough going as he fumbled his way through more than a few chord changes. Still, the audience seemed to appreciate the effort, and he appreciated their appreciation. It was that kind of a show.

He’s a digressive performer who is given to funny tangents between songs, and his light banter with the crowd, even about serious subjects, was a natural complement for tunes that often mix black humor with wrenching catharsis. Darnielle opened the show with the non-album track “Bride,” repeating the refrain, “We belong dead,” with a sense of wonderment that somehow he and the person to whom he’s singing aren’t. He offered the chorus to “Dance Music” in a precise, clipped tone, as if holding on tightly to what he calls in the song (in slightly different context) “the last best thing I got going,” and delivered the wry carpe-diem message of “Jam-Eater Blues” as a desperate exhortation. The crowd frequently helped him sing, murmuring along with him on “Have to Explode” and buoying his voice on the aching “Love Love Love.”

Opener Erin McKeown joined Darnielle midway through his set to play electric guitar on a pair of songs: he sang one of hers, “You, Sailor,” and then she sang one of his, “Twin Human Highway Flares,” adding guitar parts between verses that ripped through the tune like cyclones.

Darnielle closed his main set with “Jenny” — “I wrote this song in a grain elevator,” the singer said, beaming — before returning for three encores that included “The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton,” “Up the Wolves” and, in a surprise return after the house music had already come on, the searing, regretful and ultimately triumphant “You Were Cool.”

McKeown was a lively presence during her opening set, instructing the crowd on clapping and singing along to pointed political songs from her most recent album, “Manifestra,” including “Histories” and the sinewy “The Jailer.” She dug into her earlier work, too, with selections from the outtakes collection “Small Deviant Things, Vols. 2 + 3,” and closing with “We Are More” from her 2005 album, “We Will Become Like Birds.”

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