Not Quite Folk, Not Quite Acapella -Mountain Man Performs Unique Intimate Vocal Music at Music Hall of Williamsburg (SHOW REVIEW)

It is not easy to describe a Mountain Man show. It would be too reductive to simply call it quiet folk music, and it does not do it justice to call it an acapella show. Seeing a performance from the three women that make up Mountain Man – Alexandra Sauser-Monnig, Amelia Meath and Molly Erin Sarle – is a profound experience. There is no way to prepare yourself for the feeling of intimacy created by their three voices, as was the case at the Music Hall of Williamsburg (NY) on 10/25/18.

Their latest record, Magic Ship, is their first in nearly a decade, and the sense of camaraderie between them comes through in their live performance. They seem thrilled to be back together, but also, incredibly comfortable. When the occasional guitar gets put down for an acapella tune, whichever one of them lands in the center will subtly pull the other two closer on either side, creating a tighter unit; one that can’t be broken. The way they exchange knowing looks, or quiet laughs, tells us how much they share between them that we can never know. However, bearing witness to them singing together allows us, even for just a short time, to feel like we’re in on the secret.

What is most striking, though, is the way these three voices can morph into one, even at varying tones. Meath is the grounding center of the group, Sauser-Monnig the airy peak, and Sarle the anchor. They share one microphone, and switch places as needed depending on who’s leading. Sarle captivated the crowd with “Slow Wake Up Sunday Morning”, a song she says sometimes goes out to “dying alone”, but on this particular night, to the “endless well of longing inside all of us.” Sarle handed off the acoustic guitar to Sauser-Monnig, who lead on the beautiful cover of Ted Lucas’ “Baby Where You Are.” Another memorable cover came with Meath at the center singing Fiona Apple’s “Hot Knife” in overlapped rounds, the three voices colliding and weaving like a sensual fever dream.

The startling starkness and deft control of their harmonies was especially notable on “Rang Tang Ring Toon”, a song that about the warm, joyful buildup to a party with friends; and on “Underwear”, a song that at first seems silly, but morphs into a deep manifesto on preserving the things we love even as they’re withering away. You could hear the smack of each and every shoe unsticking from the beer-soaked floor as the audience listened eagerly, allowing ourselves to be held by the sounds of these three strong voices.   

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