It is true. RMR lost track of Mighty Oaks somewhat. The freshness of their first full-length album, Howl, got that band firmly on our radar – initially. That’s the sound and the refreshing energy that we fancy from a Folk and Folk Rock band. Unfortunately, the thrill levels were less pronounced once Dreamers came online. And we were only marginally more impressed by the 2020 piece All Things Go.
So, increased metal urges and the belief that Mighty Oaks firmly went down pop lane made us ignore their 2021 piece Mexico. And that wasn’t the best call we ever made. Because – contrite RMR just found out that this is one of the most thoughtful records the band ever created AND a step back into folksier realms. In other words, they’re now much farther in Passenger‘s earlier hunting grounds than they ever were trve pop artists.
New beginnings to smoothen things over? Quite.
So, here we found ourselves in the middle of a summer heat wave on the shores of Lake Geneva all gathered to see the folks of Mighty Oaks. That famous Smoke on the Water feeling, this particular story about a fire that started during a Frank Zappa1) concert, no less. One that still intrigues us to this day. But the location is still as gorgeous as before and we all got through the concert without fires or any other hazard this time.
Now, I somewhat felt for the band. Unfortunately, they found themselves in one of those two-band affairs that I’m not very fond of. The oaks got booked together with this unholy Plant/Krauss endeavor2) that stole their folksy thunder somewhat. And that turned out to be a slight issue for them because some 50% of the folks present clearly were here for the Zep guy and the bluegrass chick, but not for them. On top of that, Mighty Oaks had to deal with the usual stoicism of a Swiss audience – an almost eerie wall of silence with some polite clapping in between. Very civilized, but not really what one would expect from a live rock concert crowd.
Ian Hooper picked that up and nicely dealt with the sentiment over a somewhat lengthy speech to the audience, in contrast to others in the live business who didn’t quite get there. A laudable action that got him some howls, but still no crowd cooking with excitement. But what can you do, right?
I also appreciated the band’s desire to adapt their setlist and delivery to the style of the band that came after them. And that meant more folk, rock, and almost none of those terrible pop things we were detecting over the years. The influx of country-ish elements was especially noteworthy. Now never fear, they didn’t morph into a bluegrass band all of a sudden, but the shift was memorable nonetheless.
Many of the tracks came – unsurprisingly – from their latest piece, Mexico. But for the adepts of older records, enough fodder appeared as well. Howl and Brother made their appearance, for example. All in prolonged concert mode with enough oomph and emotion to please. But the real surprise came when Mighty Oaks hit us with When I Dream, I See. This came with a personal backstory. Hooper lost a parent early on in life, and this track is in remembrance of an event that deeply marked him. First time I heard that, so there you go. But apart from that, I truly loved the thunderous progression at the end of the track that came somewhat out of nowhere.
Ultimately, the band here played a neat yet somewhat short set of some of their best cuts. And – again – this was none of their doing. They were somewhat time-strapped to one hour which didn’t quite allow them to go for an encore (or five) or build more momentum. But instead, Mighty Oaks made up for that with a creative and – I daresay – a louder-than-usual performance that my metallic side truly cherished. Especially the refreshing roar of the somewhat raucous finale with the drummer suddenly going wild raised an eyebrow or two. But then, we do like them spirited over here.
So, it truly was a great and memorable evening out at the Montreux Jazz Festival. Boy, the band even walked five meters by me later when the other outfit was at it. But the RMR code of conduct forbids to just calling out for a casual interview, we’re a discreet bunch. And – in hindsight – perhaps we should have. But all of that on the side, I am truly glad I came.