Lucky ‘Goats’ Avoid Jinx

Sunday night should have been a good night. The Mountain Goats—plural only because frontman John Darnielle had decided to bring along bassist Peter Hughes to add weight to the former’s energetic rock anthems—had come to the Middle East. They were touring in support of their latest record, “Get Lonely,” and I couldn’t have been more excited. That is, until about five o’clock that afternoon.

“No team in major league history had held a seven-game lead with 17 games to play and not made the playoffs. On Sept. 12, the day the Mets led the National League East by seven games, Baseball Prospectus, the noted statistical Web site, rated New York’s chances of missing the playoffs at 500-1. On Sunday, the Mets hit the infamous jackpot.” I read that on ESPN right before leaving for Central Square. So I was in a foul mood when I got there, and it wasn’t getting any better when I saw a Phillies hat walk through the door.

Watching your team implode is a heartbreak that you have to experience to believe. Boston knows this, the Mets know this, and, perhaps most famously, the Chicago Cubs know this. Why? Simple: because theirs is the last great unbroken baseball curse, 2007 division title or no. Plus, they’re John Darnielle’s team.

People started shouting for the anthemic “Cubs in Five” early on, and Darnielle finally gave in, despite the curse he feared. “This song is about something you think is totally impossible and that’s never going to happen, and now, when it looks like it might happen, you want me to sing it?” Darnielle asked the crowd. “If you had written a song called ‘Red Sox in Five,’ would you be singing it now?” Despite the fragility of the Cubs’ post-season hopes, Darnielle plunged into the simple song, a tale of impossibility and frustration.

All this baseball mopery may not seem relevant, but it’s what made the Mountain Goats show so touching. For me, at least. I’m sure there were people in the crowd who had just gone through a horrendous break-up, or bombed the LSAT, or lost a pet, and Darnielle probably touched them in the exact same way.

That’s where the real power behind his depressing verses and sing-along choruses comes from—they get the demons out. Darnielle constantly scans the crowd, making eye contact with everyone, allowing his own joy to spill out over everyone.

The show consisted mostly of cuts off his 2005 LP “The Sunset Tree,” as well as some standard crowd pleasers such as “No Children.” Even though “The Sunset Tree” tackles Darnielle’s relationship with an abusive stepfather, the defiance in songs like “This Year” and “Up the Wolves” became universal.

It’s impossible to say what people were thinking when they sang along with the chorus, shouting “I am going to make it through this year if it kills me,” but I know the only thing on my mind was next March.

At the show’s end, Darnielle revealed that he could just as easily take the crowd down a darker path, filled with neuroses and insecurity and real loss. The dark didn’t really win over until the second encore: Hughes sat way in the back, leaving Darnielle alone to finish off the show with “Shadow Song.”

The manic joy faded away and Darnielle stood alone for the first time that night, grimacing and facing his demons head on, on their own terms. When he stepped away from the microphone to yell, it sent a shiver through the room.

Still, it was hard not to smile after the show. Simply put, the Mountain Goats shimmer live and infuse their oeuvre with a vitality impossible to capture on record, and that’s enough to leave anyone happy—at least, until the home team slides into ignominy.

Here’s hoping it really is the Cubs in five, because I sure as hell don’t want John Darnielle blaming me for anything.