Seeing as they are no strangers to London, it might be expected that another Mountain Goats gig would be a comfortingly familiar affair. As comforting as tales of loss, despair, drugs and madness can ever be.

Indeed, after a babbling madness of an intro – all crashing drums and juddering chords, John Darnielle asserts his usual presence, with the easy charm of a man who can’t believe his luck, and songs that manage to be compelling and sometimes even joyous even when detailing the lowest to which people sink.

The band manage to muster enthusiasm even for characters in the depths of despair, and as a chronicler of the dirt adhering to the American underbelly Darnielle goes someway towards justifying the backhanded compliment of a New Yorker article that he is “America’s best non-hip-hop lyricist”.

But while the music is as tight as ever, skipping across the band’s huge back catalogue of indie-rock numbers, this is not just the John Darnielle show any more. They are still anchored by his singular presence - alternating from the nervous twitches of someone struggling with some sizeable demons to skipping round the stage like a child just told he can't open his presents yet on Christmas day. But at some level the Mountain Goats now seem more like a genuine band than in the past. This transition is only highlighted during an acoustic middle section when bassist Peter Hughes and drummer Jon Wurster leave.

Previously the more fragile solo approach would have been the real joy of the night. Now the trio are at least as if not more engaging when tearing through their tales of methamphetamine and murder.

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Commenting On: KOKO, London, 26/5/2011 - Mountain Goats

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