Monsters of Folk, Bright Eyes, M. Ward, My Morning Jacket
Mike Mantin 16/11/2009
A three-hour set, no support and sharp suits all round: let's make it clear straight away that tonight is a giant ego trip. Monsters of Folk, the supergroup consisting of key members of three of the most respected indie-Americana acts of recent times (Bright Eyes, M. Ward, My Morning Jacket), are using their astonishing live show to indulge and enjoy themselves by playing each other's songs and throwing plenty of shapes. It's heartwarming, too, to see so much bromance in the room. The Monsters are constantly swapping instruments, giving each other little hugs and coming up with shameless rock poses - there's even an instance of standing back-to-back on the monitors whilst doing whatever can count as shredding in folk music.
All this would, of course, be a tiresome mess if it wasn't for the utterly incredible range of music offered up tonight, which excuses every back-pat, every pose, every instance of nodding-with-eyes-closed. The band pour their heart and soul into most of their debut (and possibly only) album and - joyfully - classics from everyone's back catalogues. The biggest cheers and whoops are reserved for when Conor Oberst and Mike Mogis strum immortal Bright Eyes standards like 'We Are Nowhere And It's Now', or when Jim James belts out My Morning Jacket's 'At Dawn' with everyone helping out with their luscious harmonies.
This is pure indie-rock variety theatre, and everyone gets their turn in the spotlight. All four (five if you include their drummer Will Johnson's Tom Waitsian rasp - deliver a few sparse ballads, but M. Ward's solo spot is the most affecting. By far the most enigmatic-looking of the bunch, he slides into the spotlight on his own and delivers versions of his 'A Hundred Million Years' and 'Chinese Translation' with jaw-dropping soulfulness and virtuosity. Content, he shuffles back and the band resume the upbeat country numbers. It's one of many joyous moments of their epic set. And it's easy to forgive all the self-indulgence when you leave feeling smug yourself for being able to witness it.