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MJ Lenderman & The Art of the Live Album

There’s no listening experience quite like that of a live album. Feeling the extra feedback of the mics and the crowd’s applause, you may feel like you’re actually at the show if you close your eyes. In the 20th century, many live records became standouts of the rock canon, sometimes even more so than studio albums—from Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged session to the numerous worshiped live recordings of Grateful Dead shows.

Carrying out the spirit of classic rock music in the present day is MJ Lenderman, a 24-year old artist from North Carolina. Lenderman’s laidback alt-country chronicles sports and Southern life in a way that’s both humorous and genuinely compelling, especially to millennial and Gen Z listeners. Citing The Band and Neil Young among his influences, Lenderman’s music feels at home as a modern complement to those legendary artists, and his new live record And The Wind (Live and Loose!), cements his stature as a revitalizing force in twangy indie rock. Joined by his live band, The Wind, the album showcases his performances in Chicago and Los Angeles this past summer with soaring reimaginings for a transfixed crowd.

A good live album is one that doesn’t try to replicate what made the studio renditions initially loved, but rather take advantage of the room’s energy and allow that to be translated on tape, flaws and all. Succinct on studio record, Lenderman and The Wind allow themselves to incorporate extended jams in their amped-up performances. The best part is: the band sounds effortlessly cool while doing it. For example, the short and sweet lo-fi cut “Dan Marino” blossoms with life on the live album, with wailing guitars and also pedal-steel at the forefront by Lenderman’s bandmate whom he also plays with in Wednesday, Xandy Chelmis. One of his quickest tracks, “SUV,” serves as the album’s midpoint as a standout track full of fuzzed out instrumentals and shouts. A late-album highlight is the quote-worthy love song “You Are Every Girl to Me” that slowly builds up with anticipation for over two minutes, which makes its introductory guitars pay off so much more once they finally kick in. The intermittent applause from the audience helps to maintain the momentum, especially on the three barn-burners that start it all off and see MJ and the gang at some of their most catchy. With each member of The Wind getting their moments to shine, it’s impossible to be lost on the fact that the band is having a blast letting loose throughout these two sets.

Live and Loose! brings another dimension of rocking to Lenderman’s breakout 2022 record, Boat Songs, but also resurfaces some of the Ashville artist’s earlier works, including “Catholic Priest,” “Gentleman’s Jack” (titled “Live Jack” on this album), and “Someone Get The Grill Out of the Rain” from 2021’s Ghost of Your Guitar Solo. Minimalistic due to the fact that it was recorded and performed completely on his own, Lenderman’s live show allows these underrated gems a chance to become sonically richer. The live record also highlights some of Lenderman’s newest material, including a stellar version of “Rudolph,” which spans roughly double its original runtime to become a six-minute shredfest. I actually attended the Chicago show at Lincoln Hall that was recorded for this album, and I can attest to the way it captures the atmosphere of Lenderman’s live show—all that’s missing is the view of the packed crowd, dancing along past midnight like they were at a hoedown. That, and my favorite song of his to hear live, “TV Dinners,” which was unfortunately omitted from the finished album.

This record is a showcase of what Lenderman and his band do best, tying a bow on a whirlwind of the past eighteen months as he’s become an indie darling. The tracks introduce the best of what he and his band are capable of, with a sense of improvisation and a slacker spirit while still performing so tightly. As the live album has seemed to dwindle in modern indie rock, this record has the power to revitalize the art form for the current generation of listeners. These songs about legendary sports players and buying boats feel like hymns to be passed on for years, relatable in their overall sentiments and full of blissful and homey instrumentation.

Photo by Yailene Leyva

The album ends with a cover of the country classic “Long Black Veil,” first performed by Lefty Frizzell. As one last hoorah, Lenderman and his already large band were joined by three more members, those who had opened up the show in the band Styrofoam Winos. The song—a ballad of a man falsely accused of murder and eventually executed—shares that timeless quality that Lenderman’s lyricism carried through the entire record. Though I was unaware of the song at the time when it was performed in Chicago, the rendition radiated the warmth and camaraderie amongst the bands so wonderfully… and its closing notes made me want to press the play button on the full live album all over again.


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