October 18, 2009
The Greek Theater, LA
Monsters. What do you think of when you hear the word “monsters”? Now imagine you hear the words “monsters of folk”. . . Do you hear it as “Monsters!! (arrrgggggrrrrr) of folk!!!”?? Or do you read it to mean that they’re so folk – the extreme folk – monsters? Did you expect really loud, monstrous rockin’ folk songs? Or did you expect quiet, extreme-folk, folk songs?
Well let’s just say, with Monsters of Folk, you get it all. Their set tonight was quite diverse. Quiet. Loud. Sit. Stand. Sit. Sit. Stand. It was like church. And everyone knew when to sit and when to stand. In fact, Jim James thanked the audience for being respectful and remarked, “Sometimes it’s hard with a folk show. The audience never really knows what to do. Some songs are loud. Some songs are soft. But you guys – you know exactly what to do.”
That said, there were one or two occasions when a couple people in the audience would cheer off-cue (usually prematurely) and others in the audience would shush them. It was a bit comical (not the fact that people cheered “early,” but the fact that other people actually shushed them).
The lights corresponded perfectly with the sentiment of the music. At times, the lighting gave off a monochromatic look. It almost felt as though you were watching a black and white TV, with a few sepia tones thrown in to keep things interesting. Other times, the lights changed fluidly from bright solid color to bright color solid color, in time with the music. On occasion the lights would flash rapidly with the beat of the drum. The lights really helped set the tone. If you were confused about whether a song was a “sit” song or a “stand” song, you could just look to the lights for guidance.
And you don’t know how I feel about Yim Yames (Jim James), but it began when My Morning Jacket made it rain at Bonnaroo in 2004. It was further confirmed during a conversation with MMJ backstage at Austin City Limits later that year. It was topped off with a lengthy discussion about one-off bugs — bugs that have sex once and then die (are killed) – i.e. praying mantis, black widows, etc. I think highly, fondly, and – I say this with affection – strangely, of Yim Yames.
Then there’s M. Ward. Check. And Mike Mogis. I wasn’t consciously aware of Mogus, although he’s produced and engineered several albums I own.
Tonight’s show took place at The Greek, a theater I love. It’s so beautiful up there and the sound is great. They really should allow cameras so people can see what they’re missing.
The first half of the show was pretty mellow. Even the more rockin’ songs were somewhat low-key. The audience was very quiet and respectful – it was a civilized, adult show.
Then something happened. . . they turned the sound on. Or at least it felt like they turned the sound on. The show took a turn and became loud, rebellious, fun, rock (relatively speaking, of course. It was no Tool). The audience was on their feet, cheering, the remainder of the night.
They played some Bright Eyes songs, some My Morning Jacket songs, some of the guys’ solo material, and some stuff off the new Monsters of Folk album. One thing I noticed during the first set is that many of Oberst’s songs are sweet, catchy tunes about dark subjects.
I’ve been sleeping so strange at night
Side effects they don’t advertise
I’ve been sleeping so strange
With a head full of pesticide
On the contrary, many of James’ songs are sad-sounding, happy songs. “Wonderful. . . beautiful. . . love. . . blah blah blah.” But they sound like songs of grief.
That’s kind of how the show was – you never knew what to expect. And just when you thought you did know what was coming next, you’d realize you didn’t really know a thing.
Check them out if you have the opportunity.