The last time Jordan Lee came to Brooklyn to perform as Mutual Benefit, he played with a violinist at a small record label's CMJ showcase at a small venue in Williamsburg. His album Love's Crushing Diamond had garnered a faint buzz from a couple of music blogs, and its vinyl pressing (Lee's first ever) was selling fairly well, despite only 250 copies being pressed.
All of that was less than a month ago, but as Lee took the stage on the night of Saturday, November 9th, it seemed like he had come a long way in that time. Love's Crushing Diamond went from Bandcamp to bona fide critical success, with its first pressing selling out, and a repress by Other Music on the way. Lee (who was recently interviewed by Stereogum) recruited two more musicians for his band, and now addressed a sizable audience after openers Tape Deck Mountain finished their set. As he took the stage, his eyes widened as he said, "I'm used to playing for 20 people, not 200."
Stage lights went from bright, to dark, to red, and the show began. The ambient strains of Love's Crushing Diamond opener "Strong River" filled the air, courtesy of delicately plucked strings and Lee's deft knob-twiddling, its quiet beauty prompting an immediate hush to fall over the crowd. Baby's All Right may be a bar, but Mutual Benefit immediately made it feel like a cozy living room.
The band played a set mostly comprised of songs from the new album, with a few older cuts interspersed to keep the crowd on their toes. His most popular song to date, "Advanced Falconry," incited the concert's most excited murmuring, and was introduced by Lee joking, "This song has 500 million views on SoundCloud."
During that song and others, Lee acted as a conductor, alerting the rest of his band to the music's subtle changes with a wave of his hand. Little signals, like head nods and Lee mouthing "one more time," showed signs of a slightly unpolished band, but Lee's nervous charm (as well as knowledge of his abrupt rise to popularity) made for a very forgiving audience. He slipped up once at the end of a song, triggering a loop a little too late, and apologizing, "Sorry guys, I'm sweating so much right now." But the crowd just beamed back at him, not a "boo" to be heard.
Part of the charm of Love's Crushing Diamond is its homespun nature, with its warm sound and ramshackle composition separating it from the poppy indie folk of Mutual Benefit's peers. Above all else, the band did a fantastic job of capturing that on Saturday, making for a unique, charming show. It was great to hear the album fleshed out in a live setting, with a bass, violin and extra guitar providing depth to Lee's solo sound. I look forward to seeing what the next live manifestation of Mutual Benefit looks like, and hope that it includes a female vocalist to sing all those harmony parts on Love's Crushing Diamond.
Take a listen to Love's Crushing Diamond here on Zumic, and head over to Other Music's official website to preorder physical copies.