Monsters of Folk

Conor Oberst, Mike Mogis, M. Ward, and Jim James Bring Iconic Sounds to Santa Barbara

Monsters of Folk
Paul Wellman

Not since the ’80s’ Traveling Wilburys has there been a “supergroup” made up of such stellar musicians and songwriters as Monsters of Folk (MOF). Last Thursday at the Granada, Monsters-comprised of Conor Oberst, Mike Mogis (both of Bright Eyes), M. Ward (She and Him), and Jim James (My Morning Jacket)-played a two-and-a-half-hour set that included songs from their collaborative album as well as each member’s solo project.

The band, who wore matching gray suits with skinny ties reminiscent of early-era Beatles, opened the show with the rollicking “Baby Boomer” from their eponymous album, which was released in September of this year. They then segued immediately into “Man Named Truth,” another up-tempo number, followed by “The Right Place.” While the band’s stunning musicianship was evident just minutes into the set, the lively songs failed to get the crowd moving.

The guys continued with round-robin solos, with Oberst performing Bright Eyes tunes “Amy in the White Coat” and “We Are Nowhere,” and Ward busting out a wonderful “Lullaby + Exile,” accompanied by Oberst, and “One Hundred Million Years.” One of the highlights of the evening was when James sang My Morning Jacket’s “Golden,” which, with Ward on harmonies, turned out to be pure aural beauty.

It’s not such an unusual grouping, these four musicians, each of whom is an icon of the contemporary folk scene. From the ethereal My Morning Jacket to the folksy nature of M. Ward’s solo material to the lyrical whirlwind of Bright Eyes, all forms blend well together. As a group, MOF is a force to be reckoned with, each member adding his signature musical style to create a multidimensional sound. Because of its revolving nature, the set was nicely paced, never allowing one player to dominate over the rest. It was the perfect amalgamation, pleasing for fans of one or all of the artists.

Technically speaking, the music performed on Thursday was fantastic. The sound was sensational, and the foursome played together like a well-oiled machine. Still, the whole endeavor seemed to lack a give-and-take between the performers and the audience. Aside from some introductions and a few thank-yous, the band members refrained from chatting; and the audience gave very little back-just the requisite clapping and a smattering of hoots. It wasn’t until the encore that folks finally stood up, danced, and started to express their appreciation. If the fans had been rowdier, would the band have been more engaged? Or vice versa? Who knows. The end result was, unfortunately, a musically stunning performance that felt just a bit disconnected.

Still, the evening succeeded, if only in confirming why Oberst, Mogis, James, and Ward are heralded as our generation’s folk rock gods.


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