Live Review: The Mountain Goats + Oh Pep! – Factory Theatre, Sydney (09.04.17)

“Do you like math rock? That’s good.” remarked Oh Pep!‘s Pepita Emmerichs with a wry grin, as they drew their support set to a close, jumping into “Seven Babies” and “Doctor Doctor”, two highlights from their 2016 release Stadium Cake. Earlier in the night, “Tea Milk and Honey” impressed, as the Melbourne pair performed a rare duo performance – they’re now usually accompanied by a band – but as they remarked, “this is how the songs originated”. Just Olivia Hally’s beautiful vocals and guitar work, accompanied by Pepita’s prodigious violin, mandolin and backing vocals. And it works incredibly well.

Oh Pep! on stage supporting The Mountain Goats in Sydney

The pair can banter as well as any of the best performers I’ve seen, and even throw in a jam or two where needed – as in “Seven Babies”. And set closer “Doctor Doctor” – destined to be an Australian classic – is some of the best indie-pop songwriting to be released in recent years. Just try not to singalong. I dare you.

The more I see this band, the more I like them. And the more I like them, the more I realise how much of the world is missing out on their talents. Now’s the time to catch on before the rest of the world does. And having seen them win over crowds in Spain last year firsthand, I can safely say that they are indeed starting to catch on… and tonight’s performance only seemed to show they’re getting better with each performance.

The duo served as a perfect accompaniment to the lyrical majesty of John Darnielle and his three piece of merry men, otherwise known as The Mountain Goats, currently touring the country in the leadup to an appearance at Byron Bay Bluesfest. With no less than 15 records behind them and a 16th on the way (Goths, due in May), the unpredictable and everchanging setlist of a Mountain Goats show truly keeps the crowd on the edge of their proverbial seats. With that much music, every fan has their favourites, and particularly as group move through some of the lesser known material, some of the joy in attending the concert can be found in the joy of those around you – the moment when they play their favourite song, when they are the most excited in the room.

And across nearly two hours filled with plenty of hilarious banter (much of which was WWE themed), 22 songs off no less than eleven albums (including the upcoming Goths and some unreleased rarities), the band did their best to please everyone in the room. 2012’s Transcendental Youth proved the focal point of the night, with five tracks littering the setlist, but for the remainder it was a smorgasbord of material new and old.

Emerging to Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water”, “In the Craters of the Moon” off Heretic Pride, the band’s 11th record, opened things up, as the deep tones of the saxophone heralded the group’s musical splendour, against Darnielle’s dry, oft-witty lyrical delivery; the combination of which ensured tonight’s show at the Factory Theatre sold out well ahead of proceedings.

As the group moved through the setlist, they also moved on and off stage – Darnielle occasionally performing solo on guitar, such as in “Shower”, an unreleased song that was supposed to be on Coroner’s Gambit, or solo on keys as in fan favourite “Thank You Mario But Our Princess is in Another Castle”. “Shelved” and “We Do It Different on the West Coast” were added in, off of the upcoming Goths, a name close to Darnielle’s heart, though he humorously pointed out that “death rock will always be a better term”. Meanwhile, lines like “I don’t trust what people say about long island” in “…West Coast”, seem to ensure that the new record will see no decline of the witty lyricism we are used to from the band.

He also made sure we understood that “Shelved” had nothing to do with drug taking, as the Australian vernacular suggests, but rather in regards to a record being shelved before release. Other highlights of the night included “Oceanographer’s Choice”, for its magnificent sax, “Broom People” and “Up The Wolves” for their great singalongs, and of course main set closer “This Year” for its cathartic lyrics and the fact that it’s possibly the only song in the set that everyone in the room would have known. Given the current state of the world, people seemed particularly intent to make sure everyone knew they were going to make it through the year if it killed them, and in turn, made the band briefly feel like rock and roll superstars. Interestingly, however, “No Children”, which arrived in the encore, sandwiched by a couple of “Spent Gladiators”, seemed to get the biggest singalong of them all. And helped give the band a wonderful send off.

A Mountain Goats show is one-of-a-kind. From the strong musical performance that holds the show together, to a frontman (and unashamed Wrestling fan) who could just as easily be fronting a Celtic Folk Rock group, if only they was more pan-flute, there’s nothing like it. Even Darnielle crooned, as he sat on the keys ahead of “Thank You Mario But Our Princess is in Another Castle”, that his stories were never the same two nights in a row. I’m sure YouTube may prove him wrong, but it’s hard not to believe him. This is a band who live to play, live to perform and as long as they keep coming back, the fans will be there, time and time again. No doubt hoping that this time, maybe this time, they’ll finally play their favourite song. After all, isn’t that the joy of the live experience? I’m just glad to say they played mine.

In the Craters on the Moon
Harlem Roulette
Damn These Vampires
Animal Mask
Heel Turn 2
Steal Smoked Fish
The Alphonse Mambo
Thank You Mario But Our Princess is in Another Castle
We Do It Different on the West Coast
The Diaz Brothers
New Zion
Oceanographer’s Choice
Broom People
Song for Dennis Brown
Up the Wolves
This Year

Amy AKA Spent Gladiator 1
No Children
Spent Gladiator 2

The Mountain Goats continue their tour around the country in Victoria, playing the Toff on April 11th and the Corner Hotel on the 12th, before wrapping up their tour this weekend at Bluesfest – set to play on the 13th and 14th. For more details, head to their official website.


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Larry Heath

Founding Editor and Publisher of the AU review. Currently based in Toronto, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter @larry_heath or on Instagram @larryheath.