An Evening with the Mountain Goats at Center Church, New Haven, CT

“HAIL SATAN!”

File that under things I never expected to hear a full congregation inside a Puritan church enthusiastically shout at the top of their lungs. John Darnielle and bassist Peter Hughes of the Mountain Goats grinned widely as they allowed the fans to sing the chorus of the final number of the night. Despite the seemingly fiendish words, it was a celebratory declaration that perfectly encapsulated the warmth of Darnielle’s music.

An Evening with the Mountain Goats was held at Center Church on the Green in New Haven on a particularly soggy Friday evening. The sidewalk along Temple Street was lined with fans before the doors even opened. Groups were packed under umbrellas in a futile attempt to remain dry. There was a sense of awe as the thoroughly soaked fans passed under the massive columns and prominent Greek revival pediment. Built in 1814, Center Church is a sparsely decorated Meeting House. The stark white walls and rows of pews are offset by the magnificent Waterford Crystal chandelier hanging from the ceiling. The Davenport Window, a Tiffany stained glass window, depicts New Haven’s founding father preaching his first service in the new colony and sets the backdrop for the musicians.

Fans quickly took seats in the pews on the main floor as well as the balcony. Cheers announced the arrival of Darnielle and Hughes. They walked along the left side of the balcony and down the staircase while an Ultra Lounge instrumental track played in the background. It was a stripped down set with Darnielle on acoustic guitar and Hughes on bass. A Steinway piano provided by the church gave some variations in the middle of the set. The acoustics in Center Church were amazing, as expected. When Darnielle stepped away from the microphone, he could be heard just as well as when he sang into it. The crowd was impressively respectful and quiet throughout the night, with an occasional request shouted here and there. Darnielle spoke to the audience in between most songs, giving the listeners an insight into his music. The nearly two hour set covered the Mountain Goats’ entire catalog and included “Xolo,” a Seneca Twins cover, as well as The Grateful Dead’s “Ripple.”

There was a powerful energy right from the start of their show. Darnielle turned to Hughes during instrumental breaks with a smile on his face the entire time. They were rewarded with boisterous cheers. Darnielle plays his guitar so forcefully, likening it to a toddler with a hammer, he often times knocked it out of tune. He would casually talk to the audience while he re-tuned. He was amused to be playing inside the church and commented after “Cobscook Bay” that he had fulfilled every boy’s dream by shouting “Shame on you!” at a congregation. His self-deprecating humor brought chuckles from the crowd the entire night.

During the final song of the concert, “The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton,” Darnielle paced the front of the stage. He tested how far his guitar cord would reach then walked down the center aisle of the church. He grabbed his microphone and handed it to a fan in the front pew to hold while he sang. Darnielle knelt on the floor and sang passionately. Another fan stood up and pulled out their cell phone, prompting Darnielle to object, “Put that away. Let’s experience this.” The crowd erupted in applause and jumped to their feet for the first and only time during the night.

The torrential downpour had no effect on the energy of the performers and audience. It was one of those rare experiences where the venue and the musicians were matched perfectly. Darnielle created a welcoming and vibrant atmosphere inside Center Church. He hung behind at the merch tent after the show signing everything from copies of vinyl to yearbooks brought by fans.