Some shows are just tailored made for the venue they’re in. Last week I had the pleasure of seeing a show so perfect for Old Town School of Folk Music that I was left in utter awe. Mountain Man, the trio of Amelia Meath, Molly Erin Sarlé, and Alexandra Sauser-Monnig along with Ryan Gustafson‘s The Dead Tongues took to the stage and presented some of the most pristine vocal performances I’ve heard, leaving a permanent mark in my mind.
Ryan Gustafson started things out with a bit of bad news: his voice had been ailing and he wouldn’t be able to sing the The Dead Tongues songs he had planned on performing. Luckily, Gustafson isn’t one to back down from a challenge and proceeded to change up his set to accommodate for the lack of his voice. While we did miss out on few thing, Gustafson played a number of acoustic songs before bringing out Molly Erin Sarlé to sing a few of songs with him.
Despite Sarlé tempering the crowd by saying she wasn’t entirely prepared, the pair beautifully salvaged the set with a couple of songs before Sarlé left Gustafson to quietly whisper songs into the mic. “Black Flower Blooming” tip toed past his voice problems and soothed the crowd. Later, one song in particular took full advantage of his gruffer voice. Gustafson called it a blues number, one about an open relationship he was once a part of. His voice battled its way through the difficulties of the song, lending an even deeper feeling to his words.
Not long after Gustafson, Mountain Man made their appearance on stage. Amelia Meath, Molly Erin Sarlé, and Alexandra Sauser-Monnig huddled together around the microphone at center stage and began to sing. “Blue Mountain”opened up the set and it was instantly apparent how powerful the performance would be. No other instruments took away attention from the trio’s vibrant voices as they filled the sold out room.
While occasionally a guitar would make its way to the huddle, Mountain relied most on the timbre of their voices to car the night. Even when the guitar, which was masterfully played passed between by Sarlé, and Sauser-Monnig, came into play, their voices were the clear and outright highlight. “Rang Tang Ring Toon” is a clear example with its soft and tender strumming being a subtle underline to their radiant voices.
Mountain Man’s songs throughout Made the Harbor and Magic Ship are subtle with their complexity, letting the audience fall deep within their welcoming sound before thy realize what they’ve discovered. “Slow Wake Up Sunday Morning” is exactly what it says it is, a retelling of waking up with someone by your side and the desire to stay in that place, away from the rest of the day. As their voices serenade, you’re left feeling the same way, bringing your own history to the song, making it feel grander that it is. The same goes for their cover of Fiona Apple’s “Hot Knife”, which exalts sexuality through the butter and hot knife metaphor to such a poignant degree already, that’s it’s overwhelming when Mountain Man perform it.
In between songs, the trio hilariously riffed with each other and the crowd. They briefly discussed their past as back up singers for Feist, showing off the booty drop skills they employed during that time, which led to Sauser-Monnig calling out one particularly bad/her favorite cat caller experience she had during that tour stop in Chicago. Later, as Meath took a sip of her tea, she began to giggle at what she would then describe as the idea of an aggressively quite band screaming out “You don’t like tea? Fuck you.” These moments were handled with a welcome levity, letting the crowd relax from their breath taking performance.
Not that there wasn’t levity within their music. Their beautiful voices were joined by joyful laughter during “Underwear”, where the simple yet complex lyricism yearning for the past mixed with their as a matter of fact cadence felt so genuinely fun. The chorus of “How’m I Doin'” was performed so expertly, sounding off its twinkling “Twee twee twee twuah twuo” that it was just impossible not smile.
Of course, after all the amazing songs, the night felt like it end far too soon. “We got a few more for you” Sarlé announced as Meath meekly held up three fingers. “Animal Tracks” floated on by, followed by the loveliness of “Window, and finished off with the heaviness of guilt. Thankfully they returned for one final song, “Bright Morning Stars”, leaving the crowd with full hearts as we stood to applaud the bowing Mountain Man.