Mt. Joy toes the line between indie rock heroism and mainstream success, and it seemed apparent that Tuesday night’s show was the last time the Bay Area would be treated to a Mt. Joy show in an intimate space. Sure, they played Cafe du Nord, the Swedish American Hall’s smaller basement, but they sold it out and the Will Call line was abuzz with gossip about $200 tickets on StubHub. On the other hand, sure, singer Matt Quinn played five different guitars, but they brought the rig out themselves without a crew, and to be fair one of them was actually a ukulele.
Similarly, Mt. Joy walks the space between acoustic folk and psychedelic rock, but the addition of keyboardist Jackie Miclau helps fill out the sound to create the atmosphere hinted at since their earliest demos. Even one of their quietest tunes, the heartbreaking “Cardinal,” was re-recorded for the release of the album, and its whistling intro surely enough turns into a rollicking sing-along outro.
“We get asked who our influences are, so we threw together a Neil Young cover,” Matt Quinn said before the show’s final number, a raucous version of “Don’t Let It Bring You Down.” But Young’s influences on the band were clear long before the night’s closer, perhaps most noticeably in guitarist Sam Cooper’s solo in “Silver Lining,” reminiscent of a much more polished homage to Neil Young’s signature one-note solos. The song discusses proximity to drug addiction with the same emotional depth as Neil Young’s own “Needle and the Damage Done.” The emotional crux of the night, however, came with Quinn’s reverb-soaked solo rendition of “St. George,” in which he grappled with life’s imperative but unanswerable questions.
Cafe du Nord is a venue that necessitates intimacy (the band is required to step offstage into the audience to reach the green room), and Mt. Joy felt truly at home in such a familiar space, playing songs that could likely fill arenas. Quinn signed a fan’s vinyl while still onstage, and drummer Sotiris Eliopoulos sang along to every chorus with no microphone while passionately delivering us to the musical releases so characteristic of Mt. Joy’s music. Though they largely let the songs speak for themselves and rarely addressed the audience directly, save for a genuinely grateful Cooper thanking the audience for coming to the band’s first ever show in San Francisco, they had the audience yelling along to everything from the local fog references in “I’m Your Wreck” to the euphorically apocalyptic “Astrovan” lyrics, “Maybe there is no Heaven / And maybe we’re all alone together.”
And that, at the end of the day, is perhaps the point of Mt. Joy’s music. We are alone, but we are together. We lose friends, the world is a crazy place, but we can scream about it on Market Street on a Tuesday night. Confirmation bias notwithstanding, it seemed like the photographers’ cameras were trained on the audience nearly as often as on the band itself. One fan near the front held up a VR camera, hoping to relive the catharsis over and over, or maybe just when he really needed it. This is San Francisco, after all.
Mt. Joy setlist at Café du Nord
1. "I'm Your Wreck"
5. "Jenny Jenkins"
8. "Dirty Love"
9. "Mt. Joy"
10. "Younger Days"
11. "Silver Lining"
12. "St. George" (Matt Quinn solo)
13. "Don't Let It Bring You Down" (Neil Young cover)