By: Fiona Hannigan
Mutual Benefit, the musical project of Jordan Lee, was greeted by a full house at San Francisco’s Rickshaw Stop on Saturday. Lee and his band are on tour after the official release of their album, Love’s Crushing Diamond. Lee’s had a whirlwind success, with the album receiving acclaim when it was still on a Bandcamp page. Though the Rickshaw Stop may seem like an intimate venue for some, it’s larger than what Lee has long been familiar with.
The duo Dim Peaks opened first with cascading guitar sounds, surprisingly full for only two guitars. My favorite opener was Dan Casey, who brought a Kurt Vile brand of hazy guitar-driven pop with a great vibe.
As Mutual Benefit set up, the venue became packed. Lee came out and hugged his band mates, foreshadowing the heartfelt nature of the show to come. Soft spoken and donning plaid like most of the performers that night, Lee offered San Francisco a chance to redeem itself. Apparently, last time they played here, someone said their drummer looked like a lesbian. The awkwardness of this comment washed away as they began to play, and the ethereal lushness of their sound filled the room.
“What do you guys think about Sarah Jessica Parker?” Lee asked after their first song, breaking the spellbound mood. His deadpan, sometimes self-deprecating, quips to the crowd in between songs provided a lighthearted complement to the swirling fullness and honesty of their music. “We’ve been a bad band for a long time, and an okay band for two weeks,” he remarked. I’d beg to differ. Mutual Benefit demonstrated an earnestness and passion that carried beyond their lyrics and through their performance. The band was in perfect sync, working together in a natural folk rhythm, with comfortable lulls and escalations. Like a solid ship rocking in the waves, they swayed and rolled through a set of songs from Love’s Crushing Diamond.
Fans cheered at their favorite songs from the album, like “Advanced Falconry” and “Golden Wake.” Mutual Benefit rose to the challenge of popularity, delivering above and beyond while still seeming to have a great time. Lee’s vocals soft but clear, ideal for his hopeful and sincere lyrics. Drum and bass anchored their performance, while their sparkling sonic texture explored its possibility and rippled through the space. Electronic sounds added to this quality, working with the instrumentation without being overly dense. Female vocals and violin had a vibrant energy that was a highlight of the show. Their sound is a refreshing exercise in balance, while still being wholehearted and expansive.
Although admittedly unfamiliar with playing shows as big or full as this one at the Rickshaw Stop, Mutual Benefit’s performance demonstrated their skill at their craft, making the space all the more intimate and warm. The band’s chemistry and pulsing, symphonic energy enchanted the crowd to the very end.
In a fashion befitting the humor of Lee, they overturned the conventional applause-encore game between band and audience. Lee proposed, “Let’s just pretend you clapped for a very long time,” before rounding out their set. It’s clear after seeing them that Mutual Benefit not only has the musical talent and quality, but the performance chops that make for a great band. If you can catch anything on the rest of their tour, I urge you to – they are definitely worth seeing live.