MONSTERS OF FOLK @ UNITED PALACE THEATER

post and (amazing) pics by marc evan

In 1965, at the Newport Folk Festival, Bob Dylan stepped on stage and changed the face of folk music by playing an electrically amplified set with his band.  As the famous anecdote goes, Pete Seeger was so upset with the distortion during “Maggie’s Farm” that he wanted to cut the cables with an axe.  Folk rock was evolving.  Continuing this evolution of the folk rock standard are Monsters of Folk: Conor Oberst, Jim James, M. Ward, and Mike Mogis.  These four indie rock icons are all recognized as amazingly talented singer/songwriters. They channel the folk singer heroes of our past.  They each are storytellers.  But these men together as Monsters of Folk are more than just the sum of their parts.

Artist: Monsters Of Folk
Song: Temazcal

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On November 6th, Monsters of Folk created a performance like none I have ever seen, at the beautiful and antiquated United Palace Theater.  Similar to their new album (and their individual projects as well) the songs ranged from slow somber stories to fast hard rock. They alternated between songs off the newly released self-titled album, and then tag-teamed, paired two or three at a time, playing songs from the projects that made each of them famous.

Hearing Conor Oberst and Mike Mogis perform “We Are Nowhere And It’s Now” from the classic Bright Eyes album I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning actually made me well up with tears.  We also heard selections from the M. Ward and My Morning Jacket catalogs that were equally impressive.  M. Ward came out midway through the show to do two songs without accompaniment that were possibly my favorites of the evening.  Ward’s finger-picking skills on the acoustic guitar were mind-boggling and drew huge rounds of applause as he sang his gravely, yet sublime lyrics.  Jim James (now known officially as Yim Yames), led different combinations of the band in performing old school My Morning Jacket songs like “I Will Be There When You Die” (performed with Oberst), “At Dawn,” and “Smoking From Shooting” (both featuring the full band).  He  sang with beautifully high pitched vocals at times, and at others, James released the most ethereal background vocal sounds I have ever heard performed live.

Monsters of Folk songs were great too. “Dear God, (Sincerely M.O.F.)” and “His Master’s Voice” were surreal and haunting when performed in this venue, which doubles as a neighborhood church when not hosting rock shows.  “Say Please,” “Man Named Truth,” and “Temazcal” all showed off amazing musical skills as well, with fantastic vocal harmonies and guitar playing.  Each song from the album was captivating to see performed live.  The stage would often momentarily go dark between songs so the players could switch positions and instruments, creating a literal round robin session.  No one took lead vocals for more than two songs in a row, and many of the favorite moments were when all members shared vocal duties.  This was done to fantastic effect during the encore as the full band performed Bright Eyes’ “At The Bottom Of Everything” and “Another Traveling Song.”

Monsters of Folk individually are all friends and veterans of the indie rock circuit.  Hopefully they continue to play together for as long as their hectic individual schedules will allow.  Magic happened on stage at the United Palace Theater.  This tour further cements the place of Oberst, James, Ward, and Mogis in the long list of American storytellers continuing and expanding the legacy of folk rock.

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