Mutual Benefit @ Knitting Factory (2/08)
On a subfreezing, black-iced February night in New York, Mutual Benefit was imagining a more forgiving natural world. Opening its set at the Knitting Factory on Saturday night, the band filled the sold-out venue with a mélange of recorded and live sounds – whistling woodwinds, tinkling chimes, faint howls, rich violin, and bone-hollowing harmonies.
Mutual Benefit is a folk-pop outfit started and led by singer-songwriter Jordan Lee, who would turn his back to the audience throughout the show to check on the other five musicians on stage with him that night. He started the band in Austin, but its membership has shifted depending on location. Its sound is distinct and collaborative, while staying comfortably within the folk genre and the musical geography of “somewhere not on the coasts.” Smith is a slight, modest Ohio native who speaks in a wavering, closed-mouth kind of way that’s both precious and skeptical, in an interesting complement to the music, which is hopeful and tender, displaying little self-consciousness or irony.
They played through the group’s seven-song LP, Love’s Crushing Diamond (Soft Eyes, October 2013) pretty much in order. “Advanced Falconry” was clearly the crowd favorite, though “Let’s Play/Statue of a Man” was a standout, with lyrics such as, “[A]nd there’s always love / when you think there’s none to give” shining through the artful array of “natural” sounds. The fifty-plus minute set was generous, but not excessive. They simply took their time opening up each song, through a slow build or a violin solo, or taking breaks to crack jokes and compliment opening acts Leapling and Norwegian Arms.
After enjoying critical success in late 2013, this was one of the group’s first sold-out shows, and last stop on their U.S. tour. Next week, they will embark on a European tour, starting off in Berlin. Lee may play modest for now, but in the year to come, it’s only natural that Mutual Benefit keep climbing the food chain.
Review by Melanie Broder. Follower her on Twitter @melbroder.