Monsters of Folk @ The Greek Theater, 10/18/09
Monsters of Folk is one of the most honest super groups I've ever seen. What I mean is this: most super groups are so in love with their new project that they pretend that it is their only musical work to date and that the audience is solely there to hear that album. They get so wrapped up in this feeling that they refuse to play the hits that everyone came there to see. I'm pleased to report that Monsters of Folk, a group made up of Conor Oberst, Jim James, M. Ward, and Mike Mogis, did no such thing. They were fully aware that most of the people who packed the sold out Greek Theater were mildly curious about Monsters of Folk's debut but were mostly there to see Bright Eyes, My Morning Jacket, and M. Ward.
There were no openers on Sunday night, no intermission, and the band went on promptly at 7:30pm. Anybody who had planned on arriving fashionably late at nine (and there were a lot of them) were horrified to realize that they had missed the first hour and a half of music. Opening with their first single "Say Please," Monsters of Folk spent the evening happily messing around with their new creations as well as each others' original songs. It was fantastic. You heard My Morning Jacket songs with M.Ward vocals. Conor Oberst songs with lovely harmonies added by Jim James. And M. Ward songs accompanied by both. For people who adore covers it was a real treat.
"It's a goddamn pleasure to be under the stars with y'all tonight," Conor Oberst declared after the third song. They didn't pussyfoot around either. The smorgasbord of indie rock lasted for almost three hours (despite the fact that the Monsters disk is only 55 minutes long) as each member of the band tried to outdo each other. You could see the set change each time a different singer took the mic, which is unsurprising considering there were three instantly recognizable lead vocalists in the band. When Conor Oberst took the mic, everything became solemn and a little depressing. You could actually feel the gloom radiate over the stage. Whenever the rasp of M. Ward's voice came over the speakers, the gig felt like the folk night which was promised. But the king of the evening was the magnificent Jim James, who's ethereal voice brought people to tears. (Seriously, I saw people mist up for "Bermuda Highway.") It was like having bought a ticket to three shows instead of one.
The night ended with the melancholy "His Master's Voice," which sounds just like a My Morning Jacket song. Green smoke filled the stage and swirled like Jim James' voice through the speakers into the sky. Not the riotous big finish some of us were hoping for, but a real testament to the Monster's of Folk album, which is at it's heart a mixture of three good bands.
Check out the set list here.