I first heard The Mowgli’s in 2012, when WXRT played “San Francisco” on a new music segment. I recall being struck by the song’s earnestness. It opened with the lyrics, sung by what seemed to be a dozen voices, “I’ve been in love with love, and the idea of something binding us together. You know that love is strong enough.” It then piled on the celebratory feel with electric guitars and crescendoing horns. While I had heard similar hippie tones in contemporary artists like Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes, I had not heard this level of sincere, unapologetic positivity in secular music before. It was unique, and I loved it.
At the time, I expected The Mowgli’s to lean fully into the hippie feel of “San Francisco,” fashioning themselves into a feel-good jam band that focused on festivals and other outdoor summer venues. Instead, they’ve spent the intervening years moving in a more conventional direction. While they have lost members and moved toward tighter, more polished pop rock songs, simple positivity has remained a constant.
The feel good vibes were on full display at Schubas on Saturday night. Upbeat pop rock songs, which included plenty of whistling, snapping, and “doo doo doos,” were interspersed with soliloquies about loving ourselves and those around us. It’s an ethos that risked slipping from earnest to embarrassing, and certainly would’ve fallen flat if it weren’t so obviously sincere. The sold out, surprisingly older crowd ate it up as they sang and danced along. The band’s sound setup certainly helped add to the vibe. Their live equipment mimics the distinct vocal echo on their studio albums. This echo, combined with harmonies that include up to five vocalists (not counting those fans who knew all the words), creates a sound that’s as much a choir as it is a rock band.
For a couple of hours, the Mowgli’s offer an escape from whatever troubles you. Despite the band’s affiliation with the Occupy movement, charitable partnerships, and vocal interludes about positive change, this is not music that forcefully engages with the world. Rather, it creates a utopia where fans are invited to spend a bit of time before falling back to earth. If you’re feeling even a little bit cynical, The Mowgli’s relentless optimism is easy to scoff at. If, however, you’re able to suspend your disbelief, their shows are a beautiful, joyful fantasy.