The Mountain Goats Close Out 2019 at the Haw River Ballroom

At the end of a busy year, The Mountain Goats come back to North Carolina for a show at the Haw River Ballroom.
by Shelbi Polk

The Mountain Goats are returning to the Haw River Ballroom December 6 and 7 to continue an unofficial tradition: though they have a national presence, the mostly North-Carolina-based band has long made a point to play a few local shows in November or December. This is their third round at the Haw River Ballroom, and a Merge spokesperson says there were a few before that. 

Courtesy Merge Records

But one could forgive the band, made up of John Darnielle, Peter Hughes, Matt Douglas and John Wurster, if they had decided to skip these shows. They’ve had a very full 2019. The April release of their 17th studio album, “In League With Dragons,” kicked off a nearly relentless tour of over 50 shows in the United States, Canada and several countries in Europe.

Lead singer and songwriter John Darnielle also released the second season of a podcast called “I Only Listen to the Mountain Goats,” which walks fans through the new album. The podcast, which he made with Joseph Fink of “Welcome to Night Vale,” was loosely organized around one song per episode, but the conversations cover everything from politics to touring to family.

Darnielle is a storyteller first and foremost. His music started as a vehicle for his poetry, and he’s had a few decades and 16 previous albums to hone that side of the craft. The stories on this album mostly center around isolated characters dealing with a changing world. There are also stories of communities looking for an absent leader or preparing for an approaching conqueror. 

Some of the stories are obviously set in a fantasy world, but other songs star an arms dealer drinking in a Casino in an Iowa Casino, Black Sabbath frontman Ozzy Ozbourne begging everyone around him to do more drugs, and legendary baseball player Doc Gooden reconciling himself to aging.

The lyrics are as intricate as ever, but the band’s growth and willingness to experiment are most obvious in the music accompanying Darnielle’s stories. 

Earlier this year, I spoke with Darnielle about the band’s evolving sound and the challenge of working in different storytelling genres for the News & Observer.