The night was cold, damp, and dreary. Yes, the mid February eve was by most standards unpleasant and uninviting, save for one illuminating factor sure to light up the city of oaks; The Mantras had pulled their wagon of sound into town. The five piece bomb squad delivered two sets at the Pour House that scorched the stage of the familiar Raleigh haunt, leaving attendees grateful to be alive, enraptured in captivation.
The tone of the evening was set earlier in the day, as rumor began to seep through the cracks of the internet that not only would the Pour House play host to a night of magnificent jams, but also that the boys from Greensboro would be carrying a choice news item, celebrated by the faces both new and old that filled the double-decker room. Yes, it was indeed time to light the beacons, as the knight himself stepped up to the microphone to start the festivities. Before playing a note, Keith Allen, flanked by the rest of the band, announced to those of us in the crowd that Mantrabash would be making its long awaited return in June. The once annual festival had been shelved in recent years, and this news was met with much genuine appreciation and applause. It was good to be in attendance for the moment. The sound of glass meeting glass from hardy cheers could be heard, high fives circulated contagiously, and hugs amongst the Mantras faithful bound the atmosphere in an excitement that took over the multitude. And with that, the show began and bore fruit of the barn burning variety.
A fitting "Knot Suite" took the opening slot, and served as a triumphant anthem following the confirmation of Mantrabash. The title track from the quintet's 2016 release was a slow build, backed by the ever-steady drums of Justin Loew's strokes. Julian Sizemore's keys began dangling their way into place, chasing the rhythm section so apt for listener's consumption. This Mantras sound was whole. "All You Hear" trotted itself out following the opening, and surged into the first true dance party of the night when "Dirtnap" emerged, sending the horde into a frenzy. The groove was real, the electro drum breaks laced with Arabian sound samples is always a crowd favorite, and bringing out this heavy hitter early in a set insured a smoke show. The trifecta of Knot Suite placeholders gave way to "Be The Light," which found Allen sending the victorious and comforting lyrics from The Mantras new studio release by the same name out into the Mantourage. The all instrumental choice "Hobo Ken," also from Be The Light, filled out nicely, bringing the twang shuffle style sound into maturity and out onto the floor. "Settle Down" was the constriction to "Hobo Ken's" release, before the recognizable bass line from the master of the backline, Brian Tyndall, ushered in a magnificent set-closing stanza of "Metrognome" into Pink Floyd's "Brain Damage/Eclipse." The crowd broke for refills, smokes, and attempted reconfiguration of their respective faces that had mostly been left dripping onto the ground due to first set merriments.
A proud "Strongbox" was the pole sitter for round two, a song which allows the thick, saucy layered vocals of Sizemore to take the rudder, and on this specific night became a vehicle to transport the band into "Man You Rawk." Brent Vaughn took over the spin cycle for the beloved 2013's "Jambands Ruined My Life" beast, and as is usually the case the song catapults the crowd into a feverish dance high. It was mostly shoulder-to-shoulder near the front of the stage and it was so good to see this song continue to be a watermark of intensity in The Mantras' live canon. "Let It Burn," "Pain Drain," and "Song For You" bolstered this second set, demonstrative of the range and versatility that the band can parade out at any point. "Song For You" initiated a triple power punch when it bled into "Abacus," this one in particular was a heavy take, spiraling audience members into the wormhole style jams that The Mantras are technicians in issuing. This is my favorite Mantras, the deep, pure, hypnotic Mantras. Paul Simon's "Boy In The Bubble" arose from "Abacus," a cover that has remained in rotation for years and always finds Allen's unique and awesome vocals on full display. These are the days of miracle and wonder my friends. The band sandwiched back into "Abacus" for a thumping set closing punctuation. The crowd was absolutely losing it at this point; the room moved as one, the walls were pulsating. Ray LaMontagne's "Jolene" began the encore segment; the take on the nostalgic style sound that Sizemore has favored for years, and acted as a beautiful and much needed slow wave of refreshment before "Five Roads" appropriately shut the door on what was a tremendous evening of live composition. The Pour House, now smoldering, brought up the house lights, and with that I departed back into the now early morning hours of the hustle and bustle on the Raleigh streets.
The Mantras are igniting fires everywhere they go. Light the beacons.
- Charles Frank
- photos by Tim Hobert