Concert Review: Megafaun at Great Scott in Allston, MA
Last Sunday at Great Scott, Megafaun played a set so steeped in congeniality, it was as if they’d been delivered to the stage fresh out of an aged oak barrel, marinated in backwoods Americana. While Megafaun may be more commonly recognized as the former bandmates of Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, they have a style just as earnest but clearly distinct – their expertise is in pushing the envelope with chaotic effects that don’t break the lull of their harmonic croons.
Megafaun’s opener, William Tyler, helped set the stage for the evening – rocking a 70s mop of hair, legit coke-bottle specs, and a Canadian three-piece suit (jeans, jean jacket, and denim work-shirt underneath), it was easy to anticipate a country-folk set. While he was certainly a Tennessee boy who regaled us with kooky banter of Mormon ex-wives, warehouse churches, and music repellent buildings, his nimble finger-picking was instead applied to more abstract instrumentals, wrapping with a frenzied, looping, tremendously beautiful cacophony. Surfing the cluttered floor in a sea of pedals, he prepared us not only for the more straightforward beauty, but the impending sonic vacillation to come.
With pulsing guitar, pleading vocals, and beating-heart drums, Megafaun’s set was predominantly good old-fashioned country-blues. New bass player (and occasional accordionist) Nick Rodgers joined the usual trio, brothers Phil & Brad Cook and Joe Westerlund, for the evening’s set. Brad was covered in tats, Phil donned a shiny “Megafaun” guitar strap, and Nick and Joe rocked mountain man ‘dos (though in perusing old photos, all were relatively de-shagged and svelte). They looked like the sort of fellows you may find saddled up at the corner of the bar most nights of the week, guzzling PBR, and overplaying Johnny Cash at the jukebox. Their lumberjack-y brawn was deceitful, though, since the majority of their lyrics and melodies exposed a lovely innocent tenderness.
Far from fluff, Megafaun did not rest on the laurels of “pretty.” Their opening song, “Scorned,” was so thickly powerful that I felt saturated with vibration, and melted with haunting vocals into the dancier number “Heretofore,” complete with electronic beeps and drums churned by mallets and maracas. In trying to pinpoint who these guys reminded me of, it was easy to hear their Wilco influence especially by their third song, “Get Right,” which sounded like a cross between 80s new wave and Wilco’s “Spiders (Kidsmoke).” Not their only Wilco-esque song, “Second Friend” reminded me a lot of “Handshake Drugs” (perhaps crossed with a Beatles ballad?), and in general the way they orchestrated their instrumentals were blended in similar alt-country styles.
Some of the more straightforwardly graceful songs included one of my favorites, “Hope You Know.” Echoing drums drove wistful, emotional harmonies, for one of the rawest take-aways of the evening. While “Kill The Horns” would normally be the frosty ballad to steal the show, Brad messed up the lyrics a bit on the first go-round, dropped the f-bomb, and then asked nicely if people would mind being quiet for this tune since the talking makes him get ahead of himself and trip up. While fair, because this song is awfully bare and a gabby audience would be especially noticeable, it took us out of the moment for a minute. To Brad’s credit, though, his round two dispatch was lovely, and given that I usually think bands are really obnoxious who try to shush their audience (no matter how much the audience deserves it), he was particularly neighborly about the request, and following the songs, shook the talking guys’ hands, apologized to them (not in the mic), and was sure to point out to the audience in advance that he was sorry to say anything, but it wasn’t personal, and we’d all drink beers after the show anyhow. While it may have put a slight damper on the moment, it didn’t sour the set.
One thing I especially appreciated about the Megafaun show was its overall dynamics. Quiet numbers, crazy numbers, charming and messy, they waltzed between North Carolina “skirt twirlers,” ballads, and break-downs. Opener William Tyler joined for the second half of the set, adding a lot with improvised guitar riffs and riding with the agitated ups and downs. Their finale song, “Real Slow,” was the best example of this integration, and one of the most impressive songs of the night.
Every so often, with proper band energy and audience feedback, a concert can turn electric – Megafaun’s show was like that. I hadn’t gotten the impression early that the audience knew many of the band’s lyrics, though you could see bobbing heads and rapt attention room-wide. It wasn’t until the encore, when the band came to the floor and played acoustically with us circled around them, that it was clear the audience was more familiar with the band than I’d initially suspected. Singing along around the band who would periodically rotate themselves so as to take all of us in, too, we achieved true synergy with the two closing numbers, “The Fade” and “Worried Mind.” In capturing the musical range of this band and experiencing their incredible affability, while we’ll likely see them go on to do greater things, I anticipate they won’t lose site of their roots. That’s what makes them so good, and will continue allowing them to thrive.
Hope You Know
The Longest Day
Kill The Horns
You Are The Light