The Mountain Goats & Stephen Steinbrink at Higher Ground, Burlington, VT

On December 5, legendary indie folk band the Mountain Goats appeared at Burlington’s Higher Ground. The band is currently touring in support of their 22nd studio album, Jenny From Thebes, a self-described “rock opera.”

The Mountain Goats have been in this game for a long time. Started in 1991 by John Darnielle – the only continuous member of the band – the Mountain Goats are a generation-spanning household name. In addition to Darnielle, the band is currently comprised of Peter Hughes, Jon Wurster, and Matt Douglas. Also joining for this tour is Isa Burke.




At Higher Ground, opener Stephen Steinbrink played an intimate set joined by Cole Pulice and Taylor Vick. With a sound reminiscent of Big Thief if they had a horns section, tight harmonies, and mind-blowing finger-picking, the trio left the crowd buzzing.




The Mountain Goats began their set with two songs from Jenny From Thebes: “Jenny III,” followed by “Murder at the 18th St. Garage.” From there, the setlist journeyed through several previous albums. “Dark in Here,” from the 2021 album of the same name; “Guys on Every Corner,” from 2022’s Bleed Out; “Nightlight,” off of 2012 record Transcendental Youth; and “Design Your Own Container Garden,” from 2003’s See America Right punctuated several more selections from Jenny From Thebes.

At the midpoint of the night, Darnielle deviated from the planned set to sing unreleased song “Birthday Song: This Time Has Gone” in recognition of a fan in the front row with a sign that declared it was their birthday.

Next, Darnielle launched into a solo version of the Grateful Dead’s “Ripple,” the only cover of the night. Before playing his next song, Darnielle proclaimed it “very old” and guessed that “not a lot of people know it,” proceeding to perform unreleased song “Going to Palestine.” As the rest of the band rejoined Darnielle onstage, he laughed about being able to remember the words to a decades old song, but stumbling over the words to their new releases.

The second half of the set leaned more on Jenny From Thebes, but older songs were still sprinkled throughout; “You or Your Memory” and “Jeff Davis County Blues” were among the deeper cuts.

Closing the official set with their popular song “This Year,” the band exited the stage. But fans knew they would be back for one of their famous encores, which change with virtually every show – one of the allowances made when a band has literally hundreds of songs from which to choose. For this show, the four-song encore included “Cotton,” “Up the Wolves,” and “International Small Arms Traffic Blues,” before the final song: a rousing rendition of “No Children.”

Before striking the iconic opening chords of “No Children,” Darnielle remarked, “This is a song that a lot of people ask me to sing at their weddings and I say no. You might not take your wedding seriously, but I have to answer to the God that made me.”

While “No Children” may not be an appropriate wedding tune, it’s hard to imagine a more perfect end to a night with the Mountain Goats. As the melody crashed on around us, Darnielle waved his goodbye, and as I walked out into a veritable mob of cigarette smokers, I could hear those notes all the way home.

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