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After a 14-year absence, the Mountain Goats made a victorious return to Cleveland Thursday, April 7.

Full disclosure: I’m a massive fan of the Mountain Goats. That being said, it won’t be a surprise to you lovely readers that I was a big fan of the show the John Darnielle-led band put on at the Beachland Ballroom. Judging by the sold-out audience that packed the ballroom, I wasn’t the only person who felt this way.

Even before the doors for the ballroom opened, eager show-goers formed a line that snaked through the tavern, chatting away about places they had traveled to see Darnielle and his band play in the years since their last Cleveland gig. When the show didn’t start right at 8:30, some grumbles could be heard, but those complaints were soon quieted when opener William Tyler walked on stage.

The Tennessean played a lovely instrumental set to satiate the masses, with fingers so dexterous that an old Swiss clock maker would be jealous. Tyler’s tunes evoked landscapes that came alive when you closed your eyes (if you managed to stop watching his deft fretwork, that is). My only wish during that set was that I could find a couch so that I could lay back and relax while Tyler’s music washed over me (and so that my old man feet could get a rest).

After another wait between acts, Darnielle finally surfaced along with Peter Hughes, Jon Wurster, and Matt Douglas. Instead of pumping out several tracks from the band’s latest album Beat the Champ or rattling off a set list of “best of” tracks, the Mountain Goats treated the crowd to a sampling of songs from throughout its discography.

The band alternated between fun tracks (“Dragon Squeeze”) and songs that are nice and depressing (“Get Lonely”). Regardless of the track, the star of the show was Darnielle himself. As I mentioned earlier in this review, I have an established affinity with Darnielle’s music, but the true wow factor in the show wasn’t the music; it was how committed Darnielle is to his tracks.

Darnielle’s music is very personal. Even when it’s a fictional tale, you can tell that he cares about his subject and treats his tunes with the utmost respect. That experience is magnified when you can see him spin his three-minute yarns on stage. Whether it’s creating a soft coo for an intimate song or bleating to the point of spittle flying through the air, the Mountain Goats main man dedicated himself to the words he’s lovingly crafted over the decades, and the Beachland Ballroom audience were just the latest people to witness it in person.

Were there songs that the crowd wished that Darnielle would perform? Of course, but it’s to be expected when an act has to select a certain number of songs from a massive catalog (even if Darnielle tries to claim he doesn’t write that much). Plus, it’s exciting when a band whips out a track you didn’t expect, such as when the Mountain Goats whipped out a saxophone-aided “Maize Stalk Drinking Blood” from 1997’s Full Force Galesburg. For every time a crowd member mouthed “Hail Satan,” they were met with a new track they’d never predicted they’d sing along to.

It had been a long time since Darnielle last came to Cleveland. After he and his band gave it their all at the Beachland Ballroom, fans likely can’t wait for the next visit.

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