CHARLESTON, W.Va. --"The only thing we couldn't get is an African band," joked "Mountain Stage" host Larry Groce as he explained the eclectic variety of music Sunday night at the Keith Albee Theater. An African band would've been interesting but very out of place for this particular performance of "Mountain Stage," which featured everything from amped-up bluegrass to odd, semi-psychadelic folk rock.
The first act of the night, Red Wanting Blue, must be traveling a lot. It seemed like lead singer Scott Terry described every song of the band's set as one they wrote due to homesickness and/or life on the road.
The weakest act of the show, Nellie McKay, came next. Her voice, to me, was irritating, especially so in the group finale as she sang a verse of "You Can't Always Get What You Want" in an operatic voice. I also felt she was portraying a character, rather than being herself.
Despite not being lyrically enjoyable to me, McKay's music was still top-notch. Her piano playing was very good as was the backing of the Mountain Stage Band.
I was indifferent about Spirit Family Reunion's set. Like McKay, I felt some of the Brooklyn-based band was playing some sort of character. Basically sped-up bluegrass, the group didn't have anything to set it apart from bands like Mumford & Sons or The Avett Brothers. However, once the band develops its own sound, it'll be very well off.
The highlight of the night was The Mountain Goats. They were all I expected and then some, delivering songs from their latest album, "Transcendental Youth," as well as an outtake from last year's "All Eternals Deck" called "Rotten Stinking Mouthpeice," which was based on a Lon Chaney Jr. movie called "Indestructible Man." After the concert ended, singer John Darnielle signed autographs and posed for pictures in the theater lobby.
Headliners Dr. Dog were interesting, to say the least. It seemed like they were trying to be three or four different bands at the same time. Still, they were very good, although most of the time I couldn't make out each lyric word-for-word. It seemed like the audience was made up mostly of their fans as they got the loudest applause of the night.
Overall, I enjoyed the eclectic night of music and am thankful that our state has something like "Mountain Stage" to broaden musical horizons. My rating for the night: four out of five.
"Mountain Stage" is in Morgantown this Sunday and returns to Charleston Nov. 18 for a show at the Culture Center Theater featuring Bruce Cockburn, Iris Dement, Brooke Waggoner, Trixie Whitley and Carrie Rodriguez.