Mother Mother may not be known that well outside of its native Canada, but the band’s show at the Studio At Webster Hall last night had all the atmosphere of a hometown gig—from the obscure fan favorites plucked for the encore, to the deafening sing-alongs accompanying the most intimate ballads. There was even that most loved/loathed of intimate show fixtures: the drunken mob. Halfway through the Vancouver unit’s hour-long set, during the sparse “Love It Dissipates,” the pushing in the front rows had gotten to be so noticeable that the band began to take note—their giddy grins receded into cautious smiles, and everyone (onstage and off) breathed a collective sigh of relief when security stepped in and returned things to order.
But you can’t blame people for getting worked up. Mother Mother’s last trip to New York was over two years ago, and with songs as catchy as theirs, one can develop a real craving (I am still baffled that the ebullient, Cars-era gold of “Baby Don’t Dance,” off 2011′s Eureka, didn’t reach earworm status Stateside). A fine-tuned pop sensibility has been the primary constant in the band’s catalog, from the acoustic folk of its 2007 debut, Touch Up, to the muscle and might of its recent, ambitious concept album, The Sticks. Last night’s set was a greatest-hits collection that featured various Sticks (“Infinitesimal,” “The Sticks,” “Dread In My Heart”), along with solid stones (“O My Heart,” “The Stand,” “Body Of Years”).
Lucky for the crowd, the band fueled its set with the same musical trickery that made the albums such a blast to listen to in the first place. The loping bassline and choppy guitars highlighted in their apathetic “Body Of Years” anthem offered a perfect entry point to a brief, spot-on cover of Pixies classic “Cactus” (good timing—that song turned 25 last night). Every now and then, Ryan Guldemond’s maniacal grin, which didn’t leave his face for the majority of the set, would widen, just before the deployment of an unexpected twist: a boisterous coda at the end of the meek acoustic “Dread In My Heart” here, a groovy, reggae-fied version of “Hayloft” there.
At times, the simplified technical setup prevented the dynamic intricacies from being felt to full effect. The lustful churn of “Let’s Fall In Love” was more like a sloshing, thanks to the paltry bass levels, and “The Stand” had trouble retaining its starry-eyed charm without its signature banjo riff commanding full attention. But the aim of intimate shows like these isn’t necessarily to include every little detail. It’s about playing the highlight reel vivaciously, with just enough added spice to stir the crowd. And there was nothing that could keep Mother Mother from carrying out that mission to full effect—not even some tipsy troublemakers.