Smile Politely

The Mountain Goats’ melodic mastery enthralls on a warm spring night

A person stands on stage at a microphone stand with both hands out to the side, possibly speaking or singing. They are wearing a black blazer over a red shirt and dark pants. To their left, a musician with shoulder-length hair is seated at the drum set, focused on playing. Another person is standing to the right, playing an electric guitar and dressed in a dark jacket, a brown shirt, and jeans. The guitarist is using a pedalboard. On stage, there are various musical instruments including a red electric bass guitar on a stand and another electric guitar leaning against the drum set. The stage lighting casts a warm hue over the scene, and the audience is not visible in the image. The setting appears to be an indoor concert venue.
Ty Noel

On an unusually warm day for early April, the crowd outside of the City Center were able to take in the beautiful weather while waiting to enter the venue. Although doors opened at 7 p.m., many were still filing in an hour later, eager to grab a drink and make their way through the crowd up to the front. To the left of the stage, a garage door stood open with security flanking it, allowing safe entry for both acts for the evening, along with some much-needed airflow onto the packed floor. 

The evening began with the only opening act finding her way to the stage. Equipped with her guitar and indie rock songs — in addition to some clever quips to the audience — it didn’t take long for Katy Kirby to draw the attention of the eager crowd. “Tomorrow is my birthday,” said Kirby, “so make sure to buy some merch for me!” Among the songs she played in her set, “Juniper” was the most popular of the bunch, the main hit off of her 2021 album a Cool Dry Place. She ended the night with the song “Portals” before momentarily leaving the stage, only to return to toss a few picks to the audience while grabbing her gear.

After Kirby departed, there was enough of a break to get The Mountain Goats’ instruments prepared and for the crowd to grab another drink before the band made their way to the stage. The show opened with everyone but lead John Darnielle taking the stage, as the band began to play to get the crowd moving once again. Thankfully, Darnielle didn’t make the eager fans wait long, as his energetic appearance led to a cheer through the audience as The Mountain Goats launched into “Azo Tle Nelli in Tlalticpac.” 

On stage, a band is performing. From left to right: a musician plays an array of keyboards, another person stands at the microphone likely singing or speaking to the audience, a drummer sits behind a drum set, another band member plays an electric bass, and finally, a guitarist plays a red electric guitar. The stage is bathed in purple and blue lighting, contributing to a vibrant atmosphere for the live music event. The audience is in the foreground, silhouetted against the brightly lit stage. There are monitors in front of the stage, typical of a live concert setup to project the performance to the crowd.
Ty Noel

In addition to the full band’s lineup, Isa Burke was on stage as well, lending her expertise on violin and guitar throughout the evening and for their entire tour. As The Mountain Goats played, Darnielle was all over the stage, finding different instruments to play and interacting with his band which led the audience to cheer him on. During the song “Only One Way” the crowd was able to show their musical prowess as well, actually clapping on beat: one of the few times I’ve seen this done correctly at a live show. After one more song, the band stepped away to allow Darnielle to play three solo pieces, including “Weekend in Western Illinois.”

Once finished with his mini-set and the acoustic guitar placed back on its stand, The Mountain Goats returned to the stage to continue their two-hour set for the night. Although the band played a handful of songs they were known for, such as “No Children” — which included a fun “I Hope You Dance” by Shania Twain intro — the band made sure to play several songs that their most diehard fans would love to hear. As the setlist ended with “This Year,” it didn’t take long for the band to be coaxed back inside after stepping out into the warm night air to play a four-song encore that featured the song “Up to Wolves.”

Both The Mountain Goats and Katy Kirby put on a fantastic Saturday night show at the City Center. The venue did a phenomenal job with both the lighting and sound, leading to smooth performances throughout the evening. The audience was engaged with both acts and provided the energy artists strive to attain while putting on a show. Whether it was the first time seeing The Mountain Goats or the tenth, the band made sure their melodic performance would ensure filling the City Center the next time they returned to Champaign.

The band is set up on stage for a live performance. Starting from the left, there's a guitarist playing an electric guitar, a keyboard player surrounded by multiple keyboards, the lead vocalist stands at the center microphone, possibly singing or addressing the audience, and a bass player is strumming an electric bass. On the right, a female guitarist plays an electric guitar. Behind the band, the drummer is seated at the drum kit, actively playing. The stage is lit with reddish lighting, adding warmth to the scene. In front of the stage, the audience watches the performance, their heads visible from the back. Monitors line the front of the stage, and various pieces of equipment and cables are scattered throughout, creating a dynamic and authentic live music environment.
Ty Noel
A musician stands center stage playing a red electric guitar. To the left, a complex setup of keyboards and electronic equipment is visible, indicating the presence of a keyboard player in the band. In the background, a drum set awaits with cymbals shining under the stage lights. To the right, there's a microphone stand and a white electric bass guitar propped up, ready for use. Another red electric guitar is on a stand next to the bass. The stage setting suggests a break in the performance or a solo moment for the guitarist. The lighting casts a blue hue over the stage, highlighting the solo performer and the instruments.
Ty Noel
On stage, a band is engaged in a performance. To the left, a keyboard player is focused on playing their instruments, surrounded by various electronic equipment. In the center, the lead vocalist, holding a microphone, is accompanied by a guitarist on the right, both sharing a moment of interaction. Behind them, the drummer is captured in the midst of playing, cymbals glinting under the stage lights. On the far right, a musician is playing the violin, adding a melodic layer to the music. The audience is in the foreground, heads turned toward the stage, engrossed in the performance. The venue's ambiance is set by purplish lighting, giving the scene a warm and inviting feel.
Ty Noel
The image shows a band performing on stage in front of a packed audience. The keyboard player is on the left, with multiple keyboards set up around them. In the center, the lead singer is at the microphone, and to the right, there's a guitarist and a bass player, both of whom are focused on their instruments. The drummer is slightly elevated on a platform in the background. The audience is dense and filled with people enjoying the show, their attention directed towards the performers. The venue has a dark ambiance with stage lights illuminating the band, creating a contrast that highlights the musicians against the darker crowd and backdrop.
Ty Noel

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