It is a quintessential story for all folk musicians who weren’t born into the log cabin life. Michigan native Ben Schneider moved to Los Angeles to launch a fledgling music career, but it wasn’t truly born until a mecca to the shores of Lake Huron, where the singer-songwriter found inspiration outside of city smog. He returned to LA knighted with a new title – Lord Huron.
Since, he’s launched a fictional story to script his debut full-length, Lonesome Dreams, complete with cinematic accompaniment, and managed to light up college airwaves with his African-drum beat folk pulse. For all the mysticism that surrounds Schneider and his assembled group of longtime collaborators, the show was much less camp and storytelling. He let his songs do that for him.
The barn-like structure of Columbia, Missouri’s Mojo’s fit Lord Huron’s aesthetic perfectly. It was his second attempt at a show in the sleepy college town, the first foiled by van trouble on a cross-country tour, and for a tittering crowd it was obviously a one-act bill. This was unfortunate for Nashville trio Escondido, who took the best parts of western ’70s glam into its set. Chanteuse Jessica Maros struggled against a chatty crowd. It was the same crowd that, thankfully, drowned out an unfortunate cover of the unconquerable “Where Is My Mind?”( a small misstep in a decent opening set, missed by much of the Mojo’s patrons).
As the light cuts and a mountain scene splashed across the back of a small box-stage setup, a hush gratefully covered the crowd. Schneider, along with four members of his consistent tour support crowded the stage, launching into the same song that debuted Lonesome Dreams, “Ends of the Earth.” Schneider floated between two mics, one with readied with rippling reverb, a natural prop for a one-man recording outfit.
For an outfit that exists on expansive melodies that could script wheat field-worthy exploration, the sound felt a little contained.
Perhaps it was the venue sound board, but his hurried, breathless lyrics rolled into an amalgam of lovely but incoherent tenor. Regardless, it was the small touches, like the washboard occasionally sported by the drummer and other percussive quips that made the true thrust of his album shine. Checking the expected concert banter, Schneider let the songs that bled into each in the fashion of the album. If listeners weren’t ready to be barefoot by the end of the set, they probably spent a little too much of their attention on the bartender.
Another LP cut, “Time to Run,” were far too rollicking to fall victim to the miscalculated sound, the jangled guitar folding everyone into the kind of bandit narrative that the album sells so well. It was demure ballads like “The Ghost on the Shore” that could still a room on a vinyl, but couldn’t manage to envelope Mojo’s.
Already trained in restraint, Lord Huron saved the masterpiece for the closing song.
Pulling from 2010 EP Mighty, before the project had seen major airplay or had any fathom of commercial success, Schneider rolled out a stunning rendition of “The Stranger.” It was apparent that a large slice of the front row of dedicated spectators were lost by the rarity, but, perhaps more than any song that night, the room was completely captivated. Joyous, layered and freewheeling, shitty sound engineering could have stopped the infectious mystery, led by tribal drums and an undeniable flair for dramatics. It didn’t feel birthed from Michigan shores, but more on a world stage.