Thursday, October 29, 2009

Review: Monsters’ marathon holds nothing back

Photo by Alyssa Schukar/The World-Herald
By Kevin Coffey

Anyone curious should know: It was well worth it.

Before the Monsters of Folk’s Wednesday performance, some would-be concertgoers complained that tickets, at $47, were too expensive.

Far from it. The show was worth every penny.

Taking the stage in three-piece suits, Conor Oberst and Mike Mogis of Bright Eyes, singer-songwriter M. Ward and Jim James of My Morning Jacket were joined by a fifth member, drummer Will Johnson, to round out the Monsters.

Clocking in at a staggering three hours, the 35-song marathon set from the indie rock supergroup was remarkable.

“If you have to go to the bathroom, just go to the bathroom. If you have to get a beer, do it. We don’t mind,” Oberst said to laughs. “It was a choice between an intermission and no intermission, and we went with no intermission. You won’t hurt our feelings. Everyone’s got their needs.”

What did they play? Practically everything.

All 15 songs from the recent Monsters of Folk album made it into the set, as well as several songs from each member’s respective catalog. (Find the complete set list on

Kicking off with “Say Please,” the energy of the set ebbed and flowed between loud (“Soul Singer in a Session Band”) and soft (“Dear God [Sincerely M.O.F.]”) and slow (“Slow Down Jo”) and fast (“Losin Yo Head”).

The performers’ on-stage attitude was fun and nonchalant. They wandered on and off stage between songs, performing backup duties on vocals and guitars while their friends took the lead.

Egos were checked at the door, too. During songs from their own repertoires, they each let others sing full verses. Oberst, Ward and James are normally frontmen, but they didn’t mind standing out of the spotlights to play bass guitar or sing backup.

They had the most fun during their rendition of Bright Eyes’ “At the Bottom of Everything.” Oberst took the first verse, then let Ward, James and drummer Johnson sing the rest.

Not all five members were on stage most of the time, but they were most powerful when the whole band took the stage together.

And aside from the suits and some classic red theater curtains hanging down on the stage, the setup was sparse. But the songs were enough on their own.

Stunning vocal harmonies on “The Sandman, the Brakeman and Me,” dueling instruments on “Losin Yo Head” and the energy of “Another Travelin’ Song” were just a few highlights.

Oberst, Ward and James all gave nods to Omaha and the 1,400 in attendance at the Holland Performing Arts Center, mentioning how the city was instrumental in getting the group together.

“The year was 2004 when the Monsters of Folk met in this great town of Omaha. It’s very meaningful to be back here,” Ward said.

“We’ve spent many hundreds of hours here under the careful guidance of Mr. Oberst and Mr. Mogis,” James added later.

“You did a great job raising these boys.”

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