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Monsters Of Folk at the United Palace Friday November 6th, 2009: Relentless Poise

The warning was on the wall. “MOF request no picture or video recording or using of cell phones”. And they meant it too. Throughout the overlong set the poor employees of the United Palace ran back and forward interrupting audience member to tell em they can forget checking on that ride home. The sixty bucks and stranded on West 175th fans weren’t amused. And really, when did Monsters Of Folk morph into Barbra Streisand? What dicks.

Well, somewhere between My Morning Jacket’s awe inspiring New Year’s Eve 2008 concert at MSG and “My Master’s Voice” 11pm last night, Jim James put on a suit, grew a beard and fell asleep. And the rest of the band, not his band, mind, like everything Conor does, Conor naturally leads, followed, ahem suit.

It’s kinda a suckers game to rip apart a set that opens with “Say Please” and includes a stunningly beautiful duet with James on “Lime Tree” (the last song on Cassadega: “I felt  lost and found with every step I took”) and an earth shattering “Kathy With A K’s Song”. Sure, idda payed sixty bucks  just to hear those two songs.

Also, I’ve done nothing but dis Mark Ward (actualy, a reader kindly pointed out it is Matt Ward)  on Rock NYC but he performs the guitar solo of the night on “One Hundred Million Years” and performs the best song of the night not written by Conor for Bright Eyes on his duet with Jim on Ward’s  2005  classic “One Life Away”, “one of them is mine, i’m visiting my frauline, she’s always just a breath away”.

Jim used his soprano to great effect and they are a harmony group because of the parts Jim can sing but the man was born to sing lead with the Southern  boogie band of tomorrow, My Morning Jacket, and he is badly used tonight.It is Jim’s audience as much as Conor’s but Jim only gets em off at the end. Still, he performs a great song “Wonderful” (the way I feel Tonight”) with Mark. Don’t know the song and can’t find it..

The drummer Will Johnson was excellent particularly during the intro to “Losing My Head” and it is a pure pleasure to see the great Saddlecreek musician and producer Mike Mogis up close; the man is an anchor of sound and particulalrly on the Bright Eyes songs he sparkles like a gem of sound.

I mentiond before Conor is the leader and he is. He can’t help it and it is time for Conor to knock off the collective experience. MOF are all dressed in grey suits and guess who takes off his jacket halfway through the set and so stands out completely in a white shirt from a sea of grey? Conor’s in much better voice than the last time I saw him at Toad’s Place but  he was having fun in July and if Conor’s having fun in November  he is hiding it well . Still,  he never takes the lead where he doesn’t improve the night instantaneously. In a concert highlight, Conor  trades verses with the other band members on  the first song of the encore “At The Bottom Of Everything” and it is the all the magic MOF are probably in it for and failing to achieve.

So having said all that, what am I whinging about? Let me tell you now: I call this the we’ve got a setlist and we’re gonna play it syndrome. They push through a huge buncha songs and nobody stops, nothing breathes, there is no laughs, no conversation with the audience.Conor has the nerve to open the dialogue with: “Hello New York”. Hello New York? You lived here for years, you putz. Jim lives here now. We’re ground zero. The Yanks just won the world series. Yeah, I know “Breezy”, I know you don’t follow basehall, but I’m guessing you read the occasional newspaper? The band ignores us and I’ve seen Conor plenty of times and he has NEVER done that.

There isn’t time for interaction, there isn’t time for sloppy mistakes or in-jokes or love and friendship or all those things that make concerts special. Nothing is breathing: it is all relentless precision. They are so poised, so self-aware of effect with one eye on the clock and the other on the drummer.

Just this summer with a shot voice in a New Haven club, Conor and his band CONNECTED with the audience. Was it great. nah, but it was real, real good, and worth the trip. Much better than this uneven and finally boring piece of  alt rock product.

For the last time: MOF are okay, nothing special. And all those people who are telling you they are more than the sum of their parts are lieing. Everybody, Ward, Mogis and James is better with their own bands. Oberst walks on water when he is not turning water into whinge. Godchild as cry baby. The best.

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