Nothing is more reassuring than a group who hasn't toured in six years performing as if nothing has changed. While mentioning that their hour-long set was almost over, Molly Sarle proclaimed "We used to play for 30 minutes, and 15 minutes of it used to be about our periods."
See? Just as humorous as ever.
Sarle, Amelia Meath and Alexandra Sauser-Monnig first made waves back with 2010 debut Made the Harbor thanks to their blend of traditional Appalachian folk melodies, a cappella performances, and nature-inspired lyrics. But Meath soon became fully occupied with a little project Sylvan Esso - a now wildly successful group that has two albums under their belt and has that has taken Meath around the world and back multiple times since Mountain Man’s unofficial break in 2011. But in the midst of Sylvan Esso's most recent summer tour, Mountain Man surprised everyone by announcing their sophomore album, Magic Ship. Though they played a one-off show at Eaux Claires back in 2017, their performance at Sixth & I Synagogue in DC would be their first show since releasing their latest album.
If there were any pre-show jitters, Mountain Man was adept at turning it into a lot of endearingly awkward hilarity. They suggested that the crowd make ocean animal noises in-between songs, traded jokes amongst one another, and even made light of how quiet their shows are ("I used to say 'silence is my bitch.'"). Indeed, the shows are very quiet, so much so that a shuffling in your seat or a step onto the wrong part of the wood flooring could immediately distract from the show. But honestly, there's no better place for songs like "Ring Ting Tang Toon," a cover of Ted Lucas’s “Baby Where You Are,” and older favorite “How’m I Doin’” to be performed. Sarle and Sauser-Monnig would occasionally pick up the acoustic guitar to softly play behind their even softer vocals, but their mostly vocals-only performance rich in harmony and grace. It was familiar, inviting, and And that light-hearted fun happening on stage between the trio was absolutely contagious. It might only be the first show of their tour, but they haven’t missed a beat.
Magic Ship is out now through Nonesuch Records.
The Dead Tongues opened for Mountain Man, which took form for this intimate venue as a solo performance from Asheville, NC musician Ryan Gustafson. Gustafson has been around the block for years now, performing on stage alongside the likes of fellow North Carolinians Hiss Golden Messenger and Phil Cook. With a foot drum pedal in tow, Gustafson donned an acoustic guitar and a banjo to warm up the crowd with introspective and inviting tunes such as “Like a Dream” that come straight out of the celebrated Appalachian musical lineage. The Dead Tongues’ latest album Unsung Passage is out now on Psychic Hotline.