Feet fixed to the ground. Knees locked and thighs in front of calves, belly in front of thighs, and eyes in front of belly. His draw is magnetic. Observing the crowd is like watching a garden; the perennials stretch their limbs, remembering the warmth of the sun. A flower’s love for light and the beauty that transcends thereafter are not out of lust, but stem from innate understanding. I do not mean to compare Jordan Lee to the sun’s omnipotent nature, but rather to its nurturing tendencies. He feels genuine. He speaks the language of empathy and unwavering love. There is a tiny succulent on stage. The tiny succulent knows what I mean.
He is open to us from “Mudragada” to “The Hereafter” and laments freely. The set list follows closely to Mutual Benefit’s latest album, Skip a Sinking Stone, and pauses periodically for Jordan to confide in the crowd like companions. He travels and shares stage with three other multi-instrumentalists. “We all want to express our solidarity…” Lee struggles with his words, clearly at ends with his emotions. He describes the difficulty of bringing energy to the stage following the recent violence in Florida, and decides to play the next song before piecing together his incomplete thoughts.
The song is as beautiful as the last three. They are the smallest, most sincere “orchestra” I have ever seen. The bassist pauses to retrieve his flute. The guitarist sits comfortably, melodica resting gently by his side. The percussionist, surrounded by too many instruments to be called a drummer, frees his hands to play keyboard. At this point, Lee has played both guitar and banjo, and will animate his synth to perform side B of the record.
“We want to express our solidarity for the LGBTQ community….” Unlike when he sings, Lee’s voice is trembling. He says many issues were at play in the Florida bar last week, but explains, unpretentiously, the primary issue is one of empathy. “If we could just try to understand one another…” There is an aura about Lee felt long before he says a word. His timid smile and humbling eyes convey a soft cognizance, unknowingly transmitted.
The band shared nearly all of its 2016 album. Before the fourth song Lee stated, “This song is about being on tour and feeling weird,” and preceding the following song, “This one’s about feeling weird on tour,” the crowd laughed. Lee sang candidly “How will we ever go back home?” in “Lost Dreamers”, an introspection surely shared by many touring bands. Mutual Benefit has had its share of road bumps this tour; their trusty van enduring two flats on the journey from a house show in Albuquerque to Larimer Lounge. The first, Lee shared, was tough to be upset about because broke down next to a Zen garden. The second, however, was slightly more “dramatic”. Lee said no more about the issue, beyond expressing his appreciation for having made it to Denver.
The music of Mutual Benefit is emotional and at times, deeply sad. It is also, however, encouraging and hopeful. Though he sings of vulnerability and darkness, Lee never expresses life’s quandaries as reason not to try. He reminds listeners that skipping sinking stones is part of being human. I feel fortunate for having seen Lee’s reflections brought to life, but even more so for his inspiration to be a more empathetic and compassionate person. I imagine Lee will return to Denver soon, perhaps with a full orchestra, though I doubt even an orchestra could out perform last night’s band.
Written by: Haley Midzor