LIVE REVIEW: Idyllic Rock-Folk Band Mt. Joy Gets Intimate in Los Angeles

Rising folk-rock band Mt. Joy is on the verge for a massive year. With a brand new debut album, a recent televised appearance on CONAN, and gigs at SXSW this week followed by a 40+ date tour, the Los Angeles transplants from Philadelphia are turning their dreams into realities as we speak. The band's sold-out LA performance at the Moroccan Lounge on March 8 was their first show since opening up for Neko Case in January and since the release of their self-titled album on March 2. The group's performance impressively saw fervent fans knowing all the words to their songs from an album just released six days prior.

The band began as the joint musical ambitions from high school buds Matt Quinn (vocals/guitar) and Sam Cooper (guitar) grew grander. When the two were reunited in Los Angeles due to the transitions of adulthood, the duo teamed up with multi-instrumentalist Michael Byrnes via a Craigslist ad. Suddenly, Mt. Joy found themselves transitioning into a complete band with Byrnes on bass, Sotiris Eliopoulos on drums, and Jackie Miclau hitting up the keys. Playing in the same musical vicinity as The Head and The Heart, The Lumineers, and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Mt. Joy are hanging with good company. However, Mt. Joy's stunning, highly acclaimed debut album, is turning heads in all the right directions, making anyone to believe that these guys (and gal) are clearly the real deal.

Mt. Joy opened their set with their record's lead track, "I'm Your Wreck." The song closes out with lyric, “You will remember that I put my soul into it all." After witnessing the first song of the night, Quinn and company convinced the crowd right from the beginning they play with pure passion. Mt. Joy comes off wise beyond their youthful years, but they speak about these years they’re absorbed within. On the infectious folk-tinged "Astrovan," the band reflects on true artists who are sacrificing and struggling for their pursuits. Quinn sharply sings the line "These dreams are more than paper things." However, artist or not, dreams are universal, which makes both the song and this band starkly identifiable for all.

"Cardinal" leads off with a whistle as leisurely as a walk in the park or even better, just strolling through life without a care in the world. As one becomes invested in the track, the lyrics shine through with honesty and beauty. Like on the album, Quinn's vocals were fervid, especially with the lyrics, "And all of my favorite people, they don’t march to the beat of your drum, they just keep on keeping on." The song is about embracing one's own individuality and not getting caught up with the chaos of others who find it necessary to judge. "Silver Lining," the closing song of the night, is a good old-fashioned folk rock tune with an extensive subject matter layered in. As drugs were taking the lives of young people in Philly, "Silver Lining" was Quinn's reaction to the dismay and despair he witnessed tragically transpired.  

Fans were enamored by the band's unpretentious qualities and subtle mannerisms on stage. Quinn's vocals were pacifying upon first and every listen. His falsetto and the warmth of his voice reels you in the most comforting way possible. Those around me were hoping for the song "Julia" to be played and to their surprise and pleasure, it was included in the three-song encore. A personal favorite of mine, "Julia" recalls sounds of past eras. While Quinn noted before their cover of "Old Man" that Neil Young is a huge influence on the band, "Julia" instantly recalls something akin to Van Morrison's Moondance. Rhythmically, it's the band's standout track, with melodies flowing effortlessly and Quinn's bluesy vocals at the forefront.

The band's arsenal of songs is painted with profound lyricism. Included are the tales of young people losing their lives to drugs on the aforementioned "Silver Lining" and the savage and bloody era we all live in depicted on "Sheep." Mt. Joy's music is deeply rooted in modern day America as their songs are executed with heavy insight as they watch the world unfold around them. Ruminating over lost love, dreams, and artistic objectives, Mt. Joy has shed their skin on their debut album. At the same time, the self-titled record could serve as the soundtrack to a road trip, not only with deep reflection, but sing-alongs and foot-stomping rhythms to boot. Channeling signature storytellers of yesteryear to the modern indie-folk rock resonance of today with great rejuvenation, Mt. Joy are that rare diamond in the rough.

The album transition to the live stage was equally, if not more commanding. The powerful and striking folk-rock collection of songs had those listening in a constant state of thinking, believing, and feeling many things on the surfeit of themes. This is a rare reaction to experience these days with an album of this magnitude. At the same token, there's so much ease to it all, and while serious subject matters do arise, the record is striking in just how peaceful it is in the end. Despite the grandiose declaration, Mt. Joy are a subtle band. There was nothing flashy or over the top at their show, while still delivering a performance fans were clamoring to see all night, potentially all week for. One thing was certain, at every corner, at every shift in sonic direction, beauty was unfolding by the second. After leaving the venue and taking it all in, I wonder if everyone else shared the same sentiment as me. You know, such as the one found on their beloved single "Sheep," where it goes, "Oh, it haunts me, tell me it haunts you too.”

To see Mt. Joy in a city near you, check out the band's Facebook page.

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