Cat’s Cradle, Carrboro
Saturday, March 26, 2016
Heather McEntire stepped to the microphone Saturday night chewing a cough drop. On tour, she confessed, all four members of Mount Moriah had played through colds. But, she promised, “I’m gonna sing my heart out for you. And we’re gonna play our hearts out for you.”
For an hour and a half on Saturday night, she kept that promise. A month to the day after releasing its magnificent third album, How to Dance, Mount Moriah finally shared the songs onstage to a hometown crowd large enough to fill the Cat’s Cradle.
How to Dance builds upon Mount Moriah’s existing catalog, taking the roots- and classic-rock foundations of the band's self-titled LP, embracing the soulful country of Miracle Temple, and building upon it all with a cathartic dynamic. “Cardinal Cross” tilts psychedelic, riding a snaking, heavy riff that wouldn’t sound out of place in guitarist Jenks Miller’s other band, the wandering and metallic Horseback. “Chiron (God In The Brier)” merges stringy indie-psych with elegant pop, suggesting a potential crossover hit.
But for all How to Dance’s pop potential, and experimental ambitions, and righteous declarations, it’s a collection trapped in amber, as with all records. Live, it found even greater power. Before a stirring “Baby Blue,” McEntire opened up a little about the personal challenges that ended up inspiring much of How To Dance, and which led to the band’s three-year hiatus between albums. “This song is about finding your faith, whatever it looks like,” she said. “And sometimes, it’s in yourself.” Spare and earnest, the live take carried a palpable gravity.
Likewise, “Cardinal Cross” felt magnificently heavy, its cycling riff a widening gyre that threatened to overwhelm the speakers. Indeed, the set’s only real fault wasn’t the band’s but instead the feedback in the sound system. Mount Moriah carried on like seasoned pros. In fact, the sound only disturbed the set when it overpowered a sing-along offering of “Lament,” from Mount Moriah’s 2011 self-titled LP. Other times, the low rumble of feedback served to underscore the band’s power; it felt like the sound system could barely contain the exaggerated vamps and extra punchy hooks Mount Moriah supplied.
Whatever wounds McEntire sought to heal in writing these songs still felt fresh, but her resolve to defeat them seemed more confident than any studio could capture. Though the set was interspersed smartly with cuts from Miracle Temple and Mount Moriah, and capped with a captivating and reverent cover of Patti Smith’s “Easter,” the real stars were How to Dance numbers that showed Mount Moriah’s obvious growth, artistically and personally. The Mount Moriah on stage Saturday was a more powerful presence than that of the past. Like the songs they gave us, they were bold and confident, laced with real vulnerability.