Friday, July 20, 2012

REMEMBER WHEN - Monsters of Folk Tour

Mike Mogis, M. Ward, Jim James and Conor Oberst of Monsters of Folk (Jennifer Tzar)

Monsters of Folk Tour (Bright Eyes, Jim James, M. Ward)

Oct. 14, 2004 @ The Orpheum

As a music journalist, you are often given just one ticket to review a show, which is not that fun. I mean, who really wants to go see a concert by themselves? But I had just started working for the publication that assigned me the review and I had been a Conor Oberst fan for years, so I decided to brave the one-way streets of Downtown and go alone. This ended up being one of the best shows I've been to in my entire life, and the tour ended up being the birth of a supergroup.

I spent a lot of time before the show exploring the Orpheum because the theater is absolutely gorgeous. When I found my seat, it was in one of the first few rows on the orchestra level, so I had a great view. The stage was made up to resemble a living room or studio rehearsal space: There were several high-backed chairs about and an oriental rug covering the cables on the floor. It turned out that the stage was set this way because the various musicians would amble onto the stage and switch places, interchanging instruments to do a solo or provide backing for one anther.

I didn't really know much about Jim James, other than he sometimes sounds like Kermit the Frog and was the frontman of one of my best friend's favorite bands, My Morning Jacket. I also wasn't very familiar with M. Ward, but I soon fell for both of them. 

M. took the stage first with songs from his latest release at the time, Transfiguration of Vincent. His soft voice matched his unassuming manner, but the amazing sounds he produced with his guitar spoke volumes. I was completely mesmerized by his guitar playing. Jim joined him for a few songs, and then they performed MMJ’s "One in the Same."

This set the tone for the rest of Jim's set, which included guest appearances from MMJ's Bo Koster on keys for "It Beats 4 U" and Carl Broemel on pedal steel for "Oxen." There were stunning moments during songs like "Hopefully" when the entire stage went black and a heavenly white spotlight illuminated Jim as he strummed his acoustic guitar and his powerful voice vibrated through the entire venue. When he goes into falsetto, his voice really soars. Jim performed a rousing cover of "Always on My Mind" and "Golden" with Mike Mogis and Conor of Bright Eyes and M., before Bright Eyes' 90-minute set began.

I was first drawn to Bright Eyes because of Conor's lyrical prowess, the addicting "Love I Don't Have to Love" single and the fact that he had successfully launched a record label (Saddle Creek) at age 13. I had been warned in advance that his fans are quite overzealous, but was still surprised when full-grown adults walked up the aisles and randomly yelled things like "I want to have your baby!" or threw gifts onto the stage. But just google some of his lyrics, and you'll see why. Maybe it's better that I went alone to this show because I could really concentrate on the songs, the simplicity yet artfulness of the arrangements and the interplay between Conor and Mike.

I was utterly blown away. I was experiencing one of those moments when you get the good chills: You feel tingles on your scalp and get goose bumps on your arms from something totally thrilling.

This show was also significant because all three acts would be vaulted to national fame shortly after. Bright Eyes would go on to simultaneously release the electric pop album Digital Ash in a Digital Urn and the folk album I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning, which Time listed as one of the top 10 albums of 2005. My Morning Jacket gained critical acclaim with 2005's Z and mainstream success with its follow-ups, Evil Urges and Circuital. All eyes were on M. after he released Post-War, Hold Time and two albums with Zooey Deschanel as She & Him. But most importantly, the quartet of Conor, Mike, Jim and M. released a Monsters of Folk album in 2009 and toured the country together again, stopping in Los Angeles on Oct. 18, 2009, almost five years to the day of the Orpheum show. I was able to experience another magical evening, and I didn't have to go by myself that time.

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