America is obsessed with holidays, and it seems the holiday hangovers come earlier and earlier each year. Target is already running Christmas ads while the streets are just filling up with costumed revelers and drunks – and Halloween hasn’t even happened yet. It’s easy to get weary of all the pumpkin spiced foods and Hallmark-ified symbols marketed on every channel, plastered in every store front. On top of it all, the North East is bracing for a completely out-of-season hurricane, which adds up to one crazy, enervating fall. Autumn is usually my favorite season, but this week it was hard to appreciate the mild weather and colorful foliage. I needed something to break the spell, to cure the hangover. Saturday night at Brighton Music Hall, Milo Greene delivered.
I arrived late, just in time to catch the last two songs from openers Lucius – but what a treat those two songs were. For “Turn It Around”, the highlight of their recent self-titled EP, they brought on future tourmates and Boston residents You Won’t to bang tambourines and pound some drums, a percussive-heavy delight. The final number was a cover of Buddy Holly’s “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore”, which saw the band’s dual frontwomen and guitarist stand in the center of the hushed crowd playing acoustically. Though it wasn’t much, it was enough to make me wish I had the chance to see more (good thing they’re returning to Boston in December with You Won’t).
The house DJ thought P. Diddy and Bell Biv DeVoe tracks were a good transition choice between indie-folk acts, and while that seemed to settle well with the rest of the crowd, it was irksome in my already down mood. But then the saviors of my week took the stage, and it wasn’t long before all those perturbing vibes were drowned out by one of indie folk’s brightest new acts. Like the holiday season overload, music has recently had its fill of fauxlk bands, and they all tend to blend together. On record, Milo Greene’s melodic tunes don’t necessarily stand too, too far out; “1957” sounds like a superlatively good Of Monsters and Men track. While Milo Greene remains one of the finer executions of modern folk rock, their live show truly separates them from the herd, and warrants them some serious acclaim.
Bands passing around their instruments isn’t a unique occurrence, but it seems Milo Greene’s five members do it on every song. By the time they played their fourth number, “Silent Way”, guitarist Robbie Arnett had moved to keyboards, Marlana Sheetz had moved from keys to bass, bassist Graham Fink had picked up a guitar, and guitarist Andrew Heringer had switched to banjo. Drummer Curtis Marrero was the only one who stayed planted, providing subtly elevating percussion behind his kit. No matter who was playing what, the band sounded taut as a fish on the line. Their vocals harmonies, whether the harmonized whispers of “Don’t You Give Up On Me” to crisper numbers like “Autumn Tree”, were even warmer and more refined in person. There’s no real front-person, not even a lead singer, and it works to an impressive advantage.
With such presence, the songs off their self-titled debut bite like whole new beasts live. The quintet added a powerful energy that isn’t nearly as pronounced on record, where they appear far more atmospheric. Of course “1957” sounded wonderful, but “Cutty Love” beat it in a live setting, turning into a real barn burner. Even cuts like “Perfectly Aligned” and “Take A Step” came off with grander ferocity on stage, though still maintaining the melodic beauty of the album versions. It was also a treat to hear instrumental numbers like “Wooden Antlers” and “Polaroid” used not as showy filler, but talent-displaying transitions.
Most surprising of all, however, is the fact that these guys are one of the best cover bands around. Opening their encore with Wilco’s “A Shot in the Arm” was a pleasant surprise, and they really made the number their own. But the supreme highlight of the set was Sufjan Stevens’ “Chicago”. With Lucius up on stage to fill out the cut’s lush instrumentation and Heringer at the lead, the performance was the most spiritually cleansing moment of the night, an exquisite rendition that had many of the crowd belting along in sheer joy, myself included. Their own tracks soared, but even in Boston, “Chicago” reached straight for the autumnal sky.
Milo Greene showed Boston a lot of love, from Sheetz recalling how she’d wished they were entering Beantown when they last drifted into Philly, to shouting out to the audience members in the moose and garden gnome costumes. That love was returned, as even though BMH wasn’t nearly packed (despite the band remarking how pleased they were to see a full house), it was one of the loudest crowds I’ve ever heard in the tiny club. Coming in with those troubled fall feelings, I wasn’t sure how I’d receive the show; I knew it would have to be something really special to clear out all the cotton cobwebs that had clogged my mind. By the end, I had stopped taking notes, stopped snapping pictures, and started cheering, clapping, and singing with everyone else. So thanks, Milo Greene – I really needed that one.
Don’t You Give Up On Me
What’s The Matter
Son My Son
Chicago (Sufjan Stevens cover)
Take A Step
A Shot in the Arm (Wilco cover)