The North Carolina-based group balances accessible folk-rock with sleek experimentation.
Early in Megafaun's set Friday at the High Noon Saloon, Brad Cook played counter to the mellow feel of "Get Right," from the North Carolina band's 2011 self-titled album, indulging in a noisy guitar solo of feedback barks and harsh, percussive picking.
Abrasive moments like that were rare, however, and I wondered whether the North Carolina-based group, which balances increasingly accessible folk-rock with increasingly sleek experimentation, was ever tempted to pull a freak-out. Drummer Joe Westerlund clearly has the technical knack and rambunctious spirit required for one. That was especially clear when he guided the band through a wandering jam in the middle of set-closer "Real Slow." The band mostly used the live setting to find quiet space and subtle flexibility in their songs, even if the big audience seemed a bit restless at times.
Megafaun even was downright prim at times, especially on a restrained version of the Westerlund-written instrumental "Isadora." On the album, trumpet and violin give it a little more body, but in this four-piece, instrument-switching live setup, it centered on Phil Cook's mannered banjo.
Throughout the set, the band's vocal harmonies were always sharply defined. The words, though, were sometimes get soft and unclear. Brad Cook sang a rough lead vocal on "Resurrection," with Phil Cook's slide-guitar leads completing this slab of folk-rock gratification.
If Megafaun sounded easygoing, they had the stage presence of an excited and grateful band, and there were subtle variations. Phil Cook provided one of the cooler feats of the night with a piano solo on "His Robe," from 2008's Bury The Square -- light-fingered and celebratory, but with just the right amount (not very much) of honky-tonk clunk.
Westerlund, singing lead vocals while drumming, helped make this song more playful than the album version, cracking up his bandmates with the line "wipe the dust from my ass with his mighty robe." If you only ever watch or hear one Megafaun thing in your life, please make it this version of "His Robe," featuring Westerlund as Jesus
Speaking of Westerlund's comic talents, they featured heavily in the encore, a sort of medley that he presided over with a bizarre quasi-vaudevillian rant. And on lead guitar during the encore? A fellow who in all likelihood was a shaved Justin Vernon. The encore concluded with the band stepping away from its mics to sing, along with the crowd, "Worried Mind," from 2009's Gather, Form, and Fly.