M. Ward

M. Ward

  • Article by: Mackenzie Moore; Photos by Bryson Leach
  • Posted: 09/27/2011

A shadowy figure takes to the stage. He is positioned ever so slightly out of reach of the dim ring of light afforded by the follow spot. I can barely make out the shape of a guitar when his fingers, at least I assume they are his fingers, begin to give life to a jaw dropping instrumental interlude. Midway through the masterful piece, the man we’re all here to see steps fully into the light, revealing the all too familiar mussed dark hair with the famous shock of white. He has Johnny Depp circa 1995 facial scruff, an adequately vintage flannel shirt and most important of all – a microphone.

It’s a couple of songs and several minutes before M. Ward addresses the crowd that is growing increasingly more uneasy with every passing moment of reticence from the performer.

“Now that the cameras are gone we can kinda relax, huh?” he says with a coy smile playing at the corners of his mouth.

The sigh of relief is almost audible as the audience chuckles and realizes the banter is going to be playful after all. Without missing a beat Ward launches into absolutely heart wrenching staples “Poison Cup” and “Sad, Sad Song.” Pairing his conversational chaff with such bleak songs as if to say “There’s no way in hell you guys are getting out of here without experiencing some highs and lows.” Yeesh, point taken.

Struggling to fight the welling despondency I clung to that hope that Ward’s proclivity to collaboration might mean some impressive cameos during this set (I’m looking at you, Deschanel). My optimism was rewarded as Ward motioned to the wings and welcomed Nashville’s own Kurt Wagner and Tony Crow of Lambchop to the stage. Wagner’s breathy vocals call to mind obvious Aaron Neville comparisons (to anyone reading who might think I mean this as an insult: I assure you, I do not), and were a welcomed, albeit unexpected, addition to Ward’s silky smooth lead.

Ward then surprised many in attendance, myself included, by reprising his Monsters of Folk ballad “Slow Down Jo” for the first time sans MOF since the song’s release in 2009. Next on deck was another unexpected adaptation, a tongue in cheek cover of Daniel Johnston’s “Story of an Artist.”

Looking to the shadows of side stage yet again, Ward called out his second and final guests of the night: LA rockers, Dawes.  The now full band dove into several of Ward’s songs off his newest effort Hold Time as well his the title track off his 2006 release Post War. Ward’s soft voice was at times lost amid the sea of heavy drumbeats and 70s guitar licks, but what was lost in lyrical clarity was made up for in performance zeal. Dawes’ presence provided a jolt of energy that was previously missing from the set, and the encore was no exception.

Ward and company returned to the stage and invited the seated crowd to come a little closer. He didn’t need to ask twice as the crowd rushed forward to enjoy lively tunes, “Vincent O’Brien” and “Big Boat,” from a better vantage point. The grand finale was a raucous cover of Chuck Berry’s 1965 hit “Roll over Beethoven” complete with pelvic thrusts and showmanship that would have done Berry proud.  As Ward made his final bow and mouthed his last “thank you’s” to the Nashville crowd I couldn’t help but think there were a few cameramen who wish they could’ve stuck around.

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