Indie-supergroup hypnotizes thousands at Orpheum Theater

By Michael Mandeville ’11
The Roundup

Issue 3 Concert Review Michael M. WEB
Photo by Michael Mandeville '11 - Monsters of Folk perform at the Orpheum Theater in downtown Phoenix.

When indie-folk group Monsters of Folk rolled into downtown’s Orpheum Theater in late October, there were  certainly high expectations for the group.

This was especially true in terms of what Conor Oberst and Mike Mogis of Bright Eyes, Jim James of My Morning Jacket and M. Ward were going to achieve with their personal work.

Back in 2004 the group congregated for handful of shows under the banner “An Evening with Conor Oberst, Jim James, and M. Ward,” playing as an off shoot of each of the musician’s core bands. A few years later the band reassembled for an album, and are now embarking of a world tour.

The eclectic crowd of what seemed like 12-year-olds all the way to the middle aged was definitely pleased.

Fortunately, the group’s distinguished members each gave the audience their fair share of solo material through full-band performances as well as solo sets.

Full-band highlights included the group’s rendition of My Morning Jacket’s “Smokin from Shootin,” where Jim James’s jam-rock roots really revealed themselves through extended breakdowns and guitar solos.

Also, the encore of Bright Eye’s “At the Bottom of Everything” included the distribution of verses between the singers, and astonished the lively crowd filling it with clapping and singing.

The solo sets were like comparing apples to oranges; they all performed through their unique talents.

Ward’s solo performance of four songs really proved his mastery over the guitar in pieces like “One Hundred Million.” It also showed how haunting his voice actually can be, especially under a single spotlight in a pitch dark space.

More interesting though was experiencing the live dynamics of these talented musicians’ collective release.

In songs like “Temazcal” and “The Sandman, the Brakeman, and Me” that have a particular focus on Oberst and Ward, the construction of the vocal harmonies and instrumentation between the remaining members left the crowd stunned.

The collective performance was able to move the crowd that would offer little response at the start of a song to a swarm of enthusiasm by each song’s end.

While the self-titled album was exceptional, the adaptations of each song live definitely surpassed the recorded versions, making for an astounding live experience.