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Live Review: Monsters of Folk at The Troxy, London, 11/17/2009


Before we start, I apologise for any lack of objectivity there may seem to be during this review. There will be every intension to stray away from hyperbole, but if any creeps through, please understand, it’s only due to the amount of sheer adoration I have for the musicians featured in this show. I should explain that the various landmarks in the short history of Monsters of Folk that have lead up to this point have all sent me jumping for the ceiling with glee and excitement. A chance to experience it all first hand was an opportunity I was not going to pass up.

The definition of the word “supergroup,” Monsters of Folk brings together the masterminds behind Omaha’s Bright Eyes, Conor Oberst and Mike Mogis, alongside M. Ward and My Morning Jacket frontman Jim James. This rabble of indie-folk heroes was making its time in the UK quite brief, with only two shows in Britain before hopping the channel to mainland Europe. Tonight’s show in England’s capital was preceded with a late addition stop last night in the Welsh capital, Cardiff. As I made my way down to London on the day of the show, I filtered through most of the immediate responses to the Cardiff show online, some going as far as saying it was “the best gig Cardiff had hosted in 10 years.” Having spent quite a bit of time in Cardiff and having seen what it’s got to offer, I thought this to be quite a bold statement; but all the same, I reveled in the fact that it could hold some truth.

The Troxy in East London was the venue for tonight’s gig. A wonderfully large, pastel-adorned, art deco-type affair that one could imagine being used as a set for a scene in Miami Vice. Once the crowd had finally filtered in – despite the incompetence of much of the venue’s staff and with no arranged support act – the band rocked up to stage and, without a word, tore it down with opening number “Say Please.”

A three-hour (or so) epic then ensued. A large crowd, some more patient and appreciative than others, were treated to a variety of the Monsters of Folk’s own original compositions, combined with work from the extremely large collective back catalogue of all those performing. Even the band’s touring drummer, Centro-Matic frontman Will Johnson, stepped out from behind the kit for a duet with his pal Jim James.

Plenty of the audience were more than happy to have music thrown at them from all angles for the duration. However, one criticism for such a long show may be that an interval could have been a good idea. Restroom breaks and bar visits caused a few disturbances throughout the set. Having said that, taking it in turns and switching around those on stage for certain numbers, the band worked hard to keep the crowd entertained, sliding seamlessly through rockier My Morning Jacket tracks and the subtle quiet numbers of Bright Eyes and M. Ward.

A particular highlight for me was seeing Conor Oberst and Mike Mogis let rip on a handful of classic Bright Eyes tracks. The tour following 2007’s Cassadaga for many took Bright Eyes in a different direction, recreating some of their older material and largely ignoring calls for their more favoured tracks. So on this rare occasion, it was delightful to see the pair put smiles on plenty of people’s faces with the likes of “We Are Nowhere And It’s Now” and “At The Bottom of Everything.” Conor, not necessarily famed for his abilities as a vocalist, also lent a couple of verses to Jim James. With his hauntingly amazing vocal range and abilities, the My Morning Jacket frontman quite literally filled the room with harmonies and sent shivers down the spines of all those present.

The encore performance was the icing on the cake to a wonderful evening. Everyone on stage was clearly caught in a moment and reveling in the ecstasy of performance. Jim James busted out his best moves, gyrating and spinning in a fashion that would make James Brown proud, and Oberst delighted in destroying Will Johnson’s drum kit and even toppling the piano before exiting the stage.

Whilst the band’s self-titled debut album, released earlier this year, may have sparked mixed reviews, the reservations about it are certainly made up for in the live performance. Monsters of Folk is a group made up of some of the most vibrant and talented performers of our generation, and with their live show, they have proven themselves as such, the aptly named Monsters of Folk.

Set List:

Say Please
The Right Place
Soul Singer in a Session Band
Slow Down Jo
Man Named Truth
Lullabye & Exile
We Are Nowhere and It’s Now
The Big Picture
Ahead of the Curve
Vincent O’Brien
Wonderful (The Way I Feel)
Chinese Translation
One Hundred Million Years
Smoke Without Fire
At Dawn
Baby Boomer
Dear God (Sincerely M.O.F.)
To Save Me
Kathy With A K’s Song
Nothing Makes Sense
Look At You
Lime Tree
One Life Away
Map Of The World
Sandman, the Brakeman and Me
Smokin’ from Shootin’
Hit the Switch
Losin’ Yo’ Head

Encore 1

At the Bottom of Everything
Whole Lotta Losin’
Another Travelin’ Song
His Master’s Voice

The photo used above is from a 2007 Bright Eyes/M. Ward show. There was a strict ‘No Photography’ policy at the Troxy show.

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