Riding high on the positive buzz of last year’s Love’s Crushing Diamond, Mutual Benefit stopped by Nashville’s Exit/In during an abbreviated tour last night. I arrived too late for the first opener, but was amused and intrigued by the following supporting act, local synth-rock project Meth Dad, who bravely jammed out on the mic barefoot in the crowd pit. Props for the 2015 Marty McFly hat. Jock Jams, meet Daniel Johnston.
The ever-evolving lineup of Mutual Benefit, anchored by front man Jordan Lee, consisted of a sparse four-piece band encompassing just two electric guitars, a couple of synths, and drums. The lush and sweeping orchestration of Diamond was paired down in this live setting, which brought the rich lyrics and harmonies to the forefront of the performance.
The set list consisted of (I believe) the entirety of Diamond along with three other songs (I didn’t recognize) that still carried the simplistic beauty and sheen of the band’s familiar songs. Washed in feedback and lovely background vocals, wistful tracks like “That Light That’s Blinding” and “Let’s Play Statue//Of a Man” were laid bare and affirmed to be just as evocative as their recorded counterparts. One of my favorite tracks “C.L. Rosarian” even got a thumping beat added into the mix. Lee engaged the small but enchanted crowd with a few mild-mannered quips between songs, cracking sly jokes and also mistaking a solo cup of water with gin.
Fans of Mutual Benefit were treated to a refreshing take on a burgeoning and promising catalog while newcomers got a great taste of what the band is all about – minus the banjo and string section. The peaceful and communal vibe of each song created an ultimately intimate and personal experience for all. If there was an overarching message here, it was hope and persistence – it takes a strong swimmer to stay above water, after all.