Mt. Joy blow roof off Troubadour as rise continues

Mt. Joy Troubadour ZS 2024 mainbar

It had been a while since I personally got to see Philly-bred LA-based folk rock juggernauts Mt. Joy, though I’ve been able to send others to catch them during their ascent to the top of the genre which for a while was hotter than anything in rock. But opportunity came knocking to see them do a massive underplay at the intimate and legendary Troubadour on Tuesday night and that was enough to get me out of the house.

The band first played the venue five years ago while still climbing and this August they will not just play at the Hollywood Bowl for the first time, but headline there, when they take the stage for the KCRW Festival on Sunday, August 25.

The band’s growth has been great to watch, ever since I first got a chance to see them at Bonnaroo 2017 on the advice of a friend who was extremely familiar with the band. They played the festival’s smallest stage on the Thursday of the fest, which is always the low key day of Bonnaroo before things get crazy. They left a lasting impression on me then and I am not surprised to see them come through the other side of what many felt was just a phase of the stomp and shout folk anthems.

What separates Mt. Joy from the rest of the folk genre is a couple of things. Their musicianship is of an extremely high level and they’ve only added more depth as time has continued. Keyboardist Jackie Miclau was once a part-time player with the group but has taken greater stature in the band since their sophomore full-length Rearrange Us in 2020. Songs like “Strangers” from that record have benefited greatly from her creative and upbeat piano line and backing vocals on a verse and the earworm of a simple repetitious chorus. An older song, “Dirty Love” from their self-titled 2018 album, saw Miclau transform a song that early on in their touring life from something that sounded more like Warpaint into a song that Guns N Roses would’ve been proud of the piano intro.

Hearing songs like that in the cozy confines of the Troubadour made me just continue to think about just how holy shit of a feeling it is going to be hearing those songs emanate from the Hollywood Bowl amidst that beautiful backdrop. They were fully on top of their game, effortlessly slipping interludes of Tom Petty and the Pixies amongst crazy jam outs, I could just picture it in my mind’s eye.

I know that Mt. Joy has played big shows before. Just a couple years ago they topped Red Rocks and released a record of that performance. But Los Angeles has really become home not just where lead vocalist and songwriter Matt Quinn and the rest of the group rest their heads, but also the inspiration behind the words in the songs.

One of the songs the band played, Quinn preempted with a story about how it came from a day where he was dumped and was supposed to head to a bar and watch soccer club Arsenal FC in some big game, but missed out on the timing and had to wallow alone at home as they dropped a 4-1 loss.

One thing I’ve always loved about Mt. Joy is that Quinn’s voice is unlike the usual “sound like I’ve smoked cigarettes for my entire life” Ray LaMontagne lead folk-alist and has a voice that’s a bit more pop-rock like Stephan Jenkins of Third Eye Blind or the more modern band Cold War Kids’ Nathan Willett. You don’t have to ever have been on a horse to be able to fuck with Mt. Joy.

Mt. Joy mixes it up and even get funky and groovy with Michael Byrnes’ bass lines and the guitar riff of Sam Cooper on “Rearrange Us”. To be able to slow it down but still have you moving helps break things up.

It’s no surprise that nearly the whole crowd sang along to most of the show, and even new single “Highway Queen” that just dropped Friday had a couple voices behind me lending backup vocals from the crowd.

If bands like Mt. Joy are going to be the ones inspiring of up-and-coming folk rock bands, I do have great hopes. And I think their best days are still to come. They are one album cycle from being legitimate mainstream festival headliners. From the What Stage at Bonnaroo to Now What?

This review was written on a combination of Jack N The Box fries and the jackfruit sativa strain.

Words by Mark Ortega
Photos by Zoe Sher