Folky supergroup keep the dad-dancing in check and bring the thrills. The Troxy, London, Tuesday, November 18
In the world of supergroups it can go one of two ways. You might find a collection of tourbus-sized egos, doing that overbite dad dance to each other’s 10-minute solos. Or, as in the case of Monsters Of Folk, comprising Jim James of My Morning Jacket, Montgomery Ward, singer-songwriter and he of She & Him, and Conor Oberst and Mike Mogis of Bright Eyes, you find three great bands compressed into one, an indulgent but brilliant spectacle of musical creativity. The Troxy’s Art Deco cornices and rainbow of pastel shades clash slightly with the band’s undertakers-doing-classic-covers-down-the-local look, but their uniform of black suits highlights just how seriously they take their dark post-folk. If the décor doesn’t match, the atmosphere does: on early highlight ‘Lullaby And Exile’ an awed silence creeps over the crowd.
The epic three-hour, 33-song set weaves in and out of solos, duets and full band set-ups, the stage so littered with instruments it resembles a music shop’s stockroom. The band swap positions for each song, Mogis the first to prove his talent of playing, well, absolutely everything. Each member takes the spotlight in turns, embracing the opportunity to display their particular style. M Ward swings vocally from Tom Waits to Elvis, bending over his guitar like an old man at a loom. Jim James meanwhile, uses his theremin-like voice to fantastic effect, particularly on ‘Look At You’, during which he slides and jerks across the floor, filling the auditorium with more energy than we thought any man capable of.
Especially one so bearded. And yes, there’s still dad- dancing in the crowd, but the gentleman in question stops sheepishly after it becomes clear no-one else is joining in.However, the last word must go to Oberst, who gradually becomes more and more adventurous as the hours drift on. A potentially plodding conclusion is averted by a spectacular encore, during which Oberst, in a John-Peel-Stage-at-Glastonbury-style outburst announces, “Thank you, London. You’re a real sweet son of a bitch… I was talking about the Queen, by the way.” Sharp intake of breath! He then rips off his jacket, jumps off the drumkit and encourages his piano to drop off the side of the stage. These men truly are monsters – beautiful ones, of course, but monsters nonetheless.