Mountain Man: Cosmic Prom

Sunday, Jan. 19, 2019

The Fruit, Durham

This is the thing about Mountain Man. One minute they’re singing like earthbound angels and the next they’re telling a long story about farting.

From this homespun alchemy of high and low, of intimacy and irreverence, with only three harmonizing voices and occasional flecks of acoustic guitar, they’ve built a fan base that can fill The Fruit on three consecutive nights for Duke Performances.

Sunday was the final night of the folk trio’s Cosmic Prom. The theme of the concert was “Below the Sea,” following Friday night’s “Beneath the Stars” and Saturday’s “Under the Canopy.” The audience had been invited to dress up as tropical fish, and they came with everything from vaguely beachy vibes (guilty) to full-on Halloween costumes. A photo station at the entrance did brisk business.

In one of The Fruit’s black-box spaces, fishies filled the risers and sat on beach blankets or chairs all over the sea floor. Two people wore glowing balloons on their foreheads (they were deep-sea anglerfish); someone had Scrap Exchanged an umbrella into an impressive if unwieldy jellyfish.

Indiana artist Nathaniel Russell had transformed a roughshod warehouse into an aquatic dream, creating aquarium-like layers with freestanding cutouts and colored lights and festooning the ceiling with kelpy streamers. The aesthetic, as Russell promised us, felt as handmade yet otherworldly as the band’s music does. 

Amelia Meath, Molly Sarlé, and Alexandra Sauser-Monnig came out draped in matching silver sparkles and did a slow, coordinated turn during opening song “Rang Tang Ring Toon.” This later prompted a reminiscence about Feist having to tell them to stop “dropping it like it’s hot” during “Limit to Your Love” when they were singing backup.

Live, their voices sound like a string section playing together: three rich, calm fiddles, sometimes dusky and oaky, other times as bright and leaping as a river. The sound was spellbinding, and everyone was there to be spellbound.   

They sang “Boat.” They sang “Stella,” which they explained is about a child, not a cat, though they all have cats. Molly’s once lived in a storm drain. They played her song “Human.” They covered Kacey Musgraves “Slow Burn.” They encored with the virtuosic “AGT” and Shania Twain’s “You’re Still the One,” filling it with the feeling of ten years of friendship and music. 

In between, they talked to each other, sometimes about the songs, sometimes about whatever was on their minds. I can’t even retell the farting story; you really had to be there. The extended chats seemed both sincere and cultivated for effect. The audience hung on every stray comment, laughed adoringly at every awkward pause. At one point, the singers just had a long talk about what each of them had done that day. Molly did three workout videos and meditated. Amelia double-pizzaed, which is eating pizza twice in a row.

“We should play a song,” she finally said, with an apologetic chuckle, as if this wasn’t exactly what many people had come for, this invitation into a feeling of authenticity and simplicity that was less about folk music than about friendship and family. 

Contact arts and culture editor Brian Howe at 

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