(For a review of Jonsi's headlining set, go here.)
We can't seem to get enough of older sounds these days. If it's not the retro Americana movement (we see you, Pokey) or the recent soul renaissance, it's neo-folk. Mountain Man, in a sense, spans these genres, giving equal weight to American choral traditions, '60s folk and group harmonies. It's also one of the most compelling new acts to be making new things from vintage styles.
The trio of Molly Erin Sarle, Alexandra Sauser-Monnig and Amelia Randall Meath -- stare at those names for a minute and tell me this isn't some kind of alphabetic conspiracy -- met at Bennington College in Vermont, and has been a band for less than a year. Mountain Man's spare sound is anachronistic and organic, and its harmonies are damn near perfect, making the band a granola version of the Andrews Sisters rather than the oft-compared Fleet Foxes.
The band released Made the Harbor this summer. It's the Picnic at Hanging Rock of albums, pristine and arcadian, so much so that it was odd to see the band's attire; I was half-expecting faded prairie dresses and long ropes of braided hair. (They were all wearing some derivative of green, however.) Set in front of Jonsi's eerie woodland pointilist stage dressing, the band couldn't have asked for a better setting to softly, quietly, blow the crowd's mind.
The Pageant is not an easy venue for a band that sings a capella and uses a lone guitar for a occasional ornamentation, but Mountain Man's curt set was stunning. Their three voices filled up the house with ease, crooning about babies and barn swallows and other bucolic fodder that stirs up fanciful memories of an America we never knew. Their original compositions are short and varied, meandering from challenging rounds to three part harmonies that have to be impossible without a pitch pipe. A lilting Celtic inflection or Southern twang crept into the band's hushed hymns, and the set opened with a rousing Mills Brothers cover of "How'm I Doin."
There were a couple of slightly sour notes here and there, but maintaining that kind of unified harmony in such a large space, without standing in a tight circle or holding hands, is remarkable. "Soft Skin" and "Animal Tracks" were perfect, and a few of Mountain Man's songs are so short they felt more like interludes. Amelia introduced the spirited "Play it Right," saying "When I played this for my friend Trevor, he thought it was a Janet Jackson cover."