Mount Moriah, Bombadil, Loamlands, Daniel Bachmann
Lincoln Theatre, Raleigh
Friday, Feb. 14
On Friday night, N.C. State University radio station WKNC’s bold bookings of popular bands for its 11th annual Double Barrel Benefit
paid off for both the station and the artists. With over 600 people crammed into Lincoln Theatre, there was a diverse cross-section of listeners, including many who were years—if not decades—removed from their college years, but still appreciated WKNC’s broadcasts at 88.1 on the FM dial. Bombadil
drummer James Phillips was one of them.
Midway through his band’s set, Phillips told the story of how he met the rest of the members after hearing “Jellybean Wine”
(from Bombadil’s self-titled debut EP, recorded before Phillips joined) while listening to 88.1 at work. Switching off between keys, bass, ukulele, drums and a bit of harmonica, the usually playful trio—fourth member Bryan Rahija is off at the University of Michigan’s business school—stuck mostly to the starker, more piano-driven fare of their two most recent albums, such as the graceful “Have Me” from last year’s Metrics of Affection
. This highlighted the band’s offbeat songwriting and terrific vocal harmonies. The latter were on display during an a cappella arrangement of “Get to Getting On” during which the crowd was surprisingly attentive.
That didn’t keep Bombadil from dipping into its back catalog for bursts of energy such as “Cavaliers (Har Hum)” and “A Buzz, A Buzz,” with Stuart Robinson leaping around his piano or jumping from the drum riser while plucking his uke. At times, it was clear that layers were missing. “A Question,” an obvious choice for Valentine’s Day, lacked electric guitar counterpoint to give punch to Robinson’s ukulele. Lineup limits perhaps explained the absence of any selections from the group’s best and most lush record, Tarpits and Canyonlands.
They also performed a new song that implied that there wouldn’t be much departure from their familiar sound on the record they’re about to start recording.
Where Bombadil was restrained, Mount Moriah
came out loose and aggressive, similarly defying expectations. Kicking off with a handful of the more up-tempo tunes from Miracle Temple
and a new, unrecorded song, the quartet only tempered its pace for the slow-burning “Miracle Temple Holiness,” where each of Jenks Miller’s guitar notes seared thanks to a favorable mix. Mount Moriah
single “Lament” turned into a sing-along, and WKNC’s support of the song likely played a part in the recognition that swept through the crowd with the first chord. Mount Moriah also offered a raw, primal stomper in their cover of Neil Young’s “Revolution Blues,” which will be released exclusively on Or Thousands of Prizes,
a subscription series of 7-inch singles, currently sold out, that celebrates Merge Records’ 25th anniversary.
The last two songs of Mount Moriah’s set were even more revealing. Closing with what Heather McEntire called the band’s “only love song,” they transformed “Planes” into a four-on-the-floor disco jam that was almost unrecognizable outside of its modified chorus. After McEntire claimed that encore calls had caught the band off-guard, she scanned the room for someone who knew the words to “Social Wedding Rings” to help her fulfill the request. The college-aged guy who took on the task had far better dance moves than knowledge of Mount Moriah lyrics. McEntire failed to get through many lines without breaking into laughter at the attempted duet, with her bandmates enjoying the spectacle from across the stage. Although I’ve seen sharper performances from Mount Moriah, I’ve never seen them seeming to have so much fun. Considering the bleak Southern gothic tinge of its catalog, it was surely appreciated by a crowd that wasn’t eager to wallow in sadness on Valentine’s Day.
Watch more Dan Schram videos of performances by Loamlands and Daniel Bachman.