Editor's note: This show review is from our Seattle-based sister paper The Stranger and describes Mountain Man's show last night in Seattle. Mountain Man play the Doug Fir tonight.
When introducing a song about "deciding maybe not to have a baby," Amelia Meath, who's also the lead singer of Sylvan Esso, said, "I have to get my IUD replaced soon. Hopefully they're still legal." She then launched into a funny story about a gynecologist who referred to her copper IUD as "a little goddess woman who sits in your cervix and says 'no babies,'" holding out both arms to her side as if blocking eggs descending from two giant, invisible fallopian tubes. Another member of the group, Molly Erin Sarle, told an instructive anecdote about a pregnancy scare that involved a call to Planned Parenthood and also to her mother, plus a panic-purchase of a 32-pack of condoms. The band implored the sold-out crowd to vote, rightly suggesting that protections for women's health are on the ballot. They are. They always are. Now vote, damn it.
Judging by the applause and laughter and warm smiles from the pews, the stories were a welcome bit of blasphemy beneath the deconstructed rose window of Saint Mark's Episcopal Cathedral.
(Before I get a bunch of Episcopalians blowing up the comments: according to Pew, the Episcopal church "supports abortion rights with some limits." And Saint Mark's in particular is known as a pretty progressive parish, all things considered.)
But Mountain Man didn't only stop by Seattle to preach (in this case, to the choir). They're also touring the country with a new album, Magic Ship. The sophomore effort dropped in late September, nearly a decade after 2010's Made The Harbor.
The new songs, like the old songs, are portals to a gentle, pastoral world pierced occasionally by memento mori and the pangs of fuckboydom. But the new stuff feels more mature—less about dating and hanging out in the woods, and more about navigating guilt, the real value of adult friendships, and nature's mix of grace and indifference. There's lust, life, death, Fiona Apple covers, and mountains with blueberries in bloom.
Onstage at Saint Mark's, with arms wrapped around each other's waists, the ensemble played with and against that type. In-between three part harmonies, they detailed the tiny drama of a stink bug that had crawled onto their microphone. They also talked about fucking and politics and abortion. That juxtaposition of the contemporary-urban with the backyard-bucolic characterizes their particular brand of Appalachian folk, which comes tinged with witchiness and irreverence. Their harmonies reflect this dynamic, too. Alexandra Sauser-Monnig lays a solid foundation, Meath adds playfulness and sweetness, and Sarle variously spikes the blend with welcomely sour notes and crystalline brightnesses.
Here's a premium example from the latest record:
This one gives you a sense of the kind of sisterhood energy Mountain Man is pumping out:
And in this song from the old album, one of the singers makes the noise a loon makes on a quiet lake, enacting the strangeness of the natural world freaking forth from nothingness. Or something. It sounds good:
Hearing Mountain Man sing is just a pleasant thing to happen in your life, and last night was a welcome hour of solace and comfort and humor the day before one of the most consequential elections in the history of the country—one of those things that reminds you that life isn't just a swirling hell of bad news and disappointment. Portlanders, definitely go to the show tonight and catch up on the 2018 results after.