On Monday night at Los Angeles’ Hollywood Palladium, Mt. Desolation played its first U.S. gig ever — the kickoff to the band’s current tour, in part, opening for Mumford & Sons. But it was hardly the players’ first trip stateside. As the plaid-spackled, sold-out crowd was aware, this was the Americana outfit founded by two members of the very English MOR act Keane.
“Far from home, I been wanderin’ on my own,” sang Jesse Quin on the saloon stomper “Platform 7.” That sentiment could’ve rung true for Mt. Desolation in all the wrong ways, but Quin and Tim Rice-Oxley, Keane’s bassist and pianist, respectively, sounded perfectly at home performing their twangy originals. And they were hardly alone.
Backed by Noah & the Whale fiddler Tom Hobden, singer Jessica Staveley-Taylor of the Staves, bassist John-William Scott, and drummer Fimbo (the most country of the group, an actual farmer with a wavy chest-length mop), the pair dug into the songs of their self-titled debut on the eve of its release, and even took a moment to pay tribute to a classic of the form.
Toward the end of the ethereal, beautifully sad album standout “State of Our Affairs,” a familiar piano line came to the fore as Quin, Rice-Oxley, and Staveley-Taylor whipped up a properly homey three-part harmony for their own version of the Band’s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” It was an appetizer to the ecstatic sing-alongs Mumford would inspire later on.
But even if Mt. Desolation’s own songs didn’t get the same recognition, they played well among the Mumford fans, who seemed to favor the feel-good jangle of barroom numbers like the unreleased “Your Kind of Life,” which crests in a bona fide guitar-shredding hoedown, and “Pushed Around,” a blue collar anthem about quitting work and never coming back.
At the other end of the spectrum was the gorgeous sad stuff: “Bitter Pill,” which found Rice-Oxley quavering like Neil Young over a backdrop of rolling pastoral drama; “Coming Home,” a piano-propelled ballad about that great watering hole in the sky; and “Another Night on My Side,” a loving boy-girl duet where Quin’s baritone croon brings to mind vintage Songs: Ohia.
And just as the triumphant Nashville swagger of “Annie Ford” opened the night, the lovely steam engine shuffle of “Departure” would close the band’s set, inspiring the audience to clap along to the unshakeable bucolic bounce. It was a brief debut, but enough to prove that Mt. Desolation is a good look for Quin and Rice-Oxley — a welcome departure from the sass and self-seriousness of Keane, and something that should be anything but a departure.
Another Night on My Side
Your Kind of Life (unreleased)
State of Our Affairs” / “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down (The Band cover)