Rock & Roll Hotel
September 11, 2014
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Mutual Benefit’s Jordan Lee has a way of making any concert venue feel like an intimate acoustic session. This has something to do with the sincerity that exudes from him in every aspect of his performance; whether Lee is discussing suspenseful bird documentaries as an attempt to banter with his audience or digressing into songs as whimsical-sounding as they are titled like “Advanced Falconry” and “Auburn Epitaphs,” there’s definitely something genuinely Lee-esque that permeates his stage presence.
His quiet mannerisms also contributed to this feel, as Lee both speaks and sings softly. That’s not to say he hasn’t changed since I saw him last year at The Black Cat. For example, Lee has a newfound stage confidence now, albeit a little off-color. In addition, he looked more like a mad scientist on his sampler than some kid futzing around with dials and knobs — a creator and owner of some beautifully organized chaos.
Starting their set at Rock & Roll Hotel off with “Strong River,” Mutual Benefit silenced their audience. In a live setting, the song sounded like the overture to an indie opera. After the song finished, Lee gave Soft Cat, the band’s opener, a shoutout for being “fucking great,” displaying another instance of that Lee-trademarked sincerity. Next, he launched into one of my favorite songs, “Auburn Epitaphs.” In spite of its dark name, the track has this twangy guitar bassline that always makes me want to get down.
By the end of the first few songs, Lee was shyly thanking his audience for sticking around. Becoming aware of his natural introversion creeping back into his demeanor, he decided to tell a story about the time a three-way kiss took place during one of his songs. Starting another synth-filled song, an audience member felt compelled to tell Lee “I love you!,” prompting Lee to whisper “Shut the fuck up” into his microphone and coyly smile. This is the Lee 2.0; a version that’s as humorous as he is modest — in his own screwy way, of course.
“This could be a total failure, but we’ll see,” Lee said to mark the playing Love’s Crushing Diamond cut “‘Let’s Play’/Statue Of A Man”. I realized then that this is what I love about Lee’s music — though it can all be misconstrued as muddled ambient shit, it’s lovely and meditative when listened to with an open mind. It requires a little more active listening to fully understand what makes the self-described “laser-folk pioneer” tick. Mutual Benefit may not be suited for everybody on vinyls, CDs, mp3s, what have you, but their music is definitely worth hearing live at least once in your life for a chill musical experience unlike any other.
Transitioning smoothly into Lee’s personal favorite “Strong Swimmer,” a seven-minute magnum opus, Lee flashed his audience with a satisfied smile. The lyrics are simple and descriptive and the musicality intricate and unique, earning requests from the audience for an encore. “No amount of exuberance can bring us back,” Lee said, referring to the upcoming weeklong break from touring he was looking forward to after the D.C. stop. Wrapping up with “Moonville Tunnel,” Mutual Benefit left their audience feeling mellow and feeling good — another signature trademark of Lee’s.