Monsters of Folk at Massey Hall; Monday November 2, 2009.
This was easily one of the best shows i’ve seen this year. I know this because even during the show I was dreaming up ways I could start this little blurb about the show. There were no openers, much to my delight. They took the stage dressed in suits, M. Ward’s was army green.
I knew this was going to be a solid show when the band broke apart after three songs leaving M. Ward and Jim James on stage to sing M. Ward’s beautiful tune “One Life Away”. To date I’ve seen M. Ward three times, this was the first time i’ve heard him play this tune. James’ vocals sounded perfect, on the album I believe it was sung with a girl and live I’ve heard him do it with Norah Jones too on YouTube. The most awe-filled moment was part way through his live rendition of “One Hundred Million Years,” a tune off his brand spanking new album the Hold Time. This song comes of stupid simple but is more complex than it leads on to be. It sounds like a simple ditty done by a couple of guitars, in actual fact it’s only M. Ward. Which proves to me he’s one of the greatest guitarists of my time.
When I saw M. Ward with She and Him he stuck close to the sidelines, clearly he let this be Zooey Deschanel’s project. I always assumed from interviews that he hated the lime light and always preferred keeping to himself – this show proved otherwise … I’m pretty sure I said something along these lines for my review of the M. Ward gig earlier this year. Performing he shines, it’s clearly his passion. It comes with such ease and effortless comfort that I couldn’t achieve in this lifetime.
Jim James (aka Yim Yames) was the biggest surprise to me. I first met Jim in his George Harrison cover album. I immediately thought of Fleet Foxes’ Robin Pekenold – and I still do! He looks like he could be the granddaddy of the band, bearing a few years on them but also bearing the facial hair to prove! Jim James’ edge on the rest of the band was his extremely broad vocal range. He “oooh’d” and “ahhh’d” like no one I’d ever heard before. I knew he was something special when I couldn’t tell the difference between his voice and the lap slide guitar that Mike Mogis played the entire gig. I don’t know any My Morning Jacket tunes, but apparently he played some in the set.
Mike Mogis was no surprise. He was the George Harrison of the band. He layed low but shined bright. He sported the bass and regular guitar, lap guitar, and the triangle. I’m sure he played much more over that too. He didn’t brave any vocals though.
I remembered why my Bright Eyes albums never leave my prime collection – because Conor Oberst is brilliant. This is also my third time seeing Conor Oberst live. The first two times were with his outfit Bright Eyes. I was so fortunate to have seen his I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning tour and his impromt tour for Cassadaga. Both times I knew very little because both times the albums were far too fresh for me to know. What Oberst did at this gig was he played four or five selections from throughout his Bright Eyes catalogue…. With a couple of tunes drawing from his masterpiece I’m Wide Awake… He chose tunes that wouldn’t be obvious… It would probably’ve been too sweet for him to play “First Day of My Life” but he played tunes he had sang with Emmy Lou Harris, probably for their folk factor.
Having Yim Yames was a real blessing because of his powerhouse dynamic voice.
I loved how they kept the repertoire fresh… They busted into M. Ward’s “Vincent O’Brien” three quarters of the way through the set. “Vincent O’Brien” is one of my favourite M. Ward tunes for it’s hopeful shine and beat. M. Ward played and sang from behind the piano, which was a treat. While the band rocked out.
Now that I think about it everyone leaped behind a different instrument. Everyone held a bass, guitar, and keys. With the exception of Mogis and the drummer, Will… something…. Yikes.
I really liked their rendition of “Dear God (Sincerely M.O.F.)” which was as soulful on the album, but I had no idea Yim Yames had such a huge role in…. It was very shocking. I felt back to my boy band days when I had to know which person sang which part so I could idolise that one line with bigger love than I’d ever meet, ever again.
My favourite performance of a Monsters tune was “The Sandman, the brakeman and me” – an M. Ward inspired tune. Which is quite possibly the prettiest thing ever… the main lyrics are “Roll on, roll on little train. Brakeman blow your whistle throw your weight upon the chain. Make way, whatever will be, will be – between the sandman, the brakeman in me”. I think this tune has inspired me to write a favourite tunes of 2009 because it’s simply so inspiring. I love love love love love this song.
M. Ward brings so much to the table – he’s my favourite performer of the lot. He’s just oozing class in his tunes. I felt a wave of angst with every song he performed, it was a really lovely feeling. I love him for his timid voice, as much as I like Oberst for his strong deliverance and assertiveness.
I couldn’t help but think TRAVEEEEEEELLLLLING WILLLBURYS the entire gig. But I think saying that is far overdone at this point. It’s about making the best music you can, or at least creating something you like with people you like. I think that is really all this is, a bunch of ridiculously talented individuals making absolutely sparkling tunes.
They played one encore song, the last song of the album… The Jim James led tune “His Master’s Voice”. They left to similar soul music they’d come on with. They played for nearly an hour and a half, uninterrupted.
Spotless show, well worth the sixty big ones I paid. I had a fabulous seat too…!