Arts, Music, Review

Amid Period of Social Unrest, Mt. Joy Asks You to Find “Silver Lining”

Keyboardist Jackie Miclau walked to center stage of the Boston Royale Nightclub and raised her hands in the air, motioning for the crowd to start clapping in unison. Beaming with an infectious smile, Miclau swayed back and forth, slapping her hands together rhythmically. Soon enough, she was back on the keys, complementing guitarist Sam Cooper, bassist Michael Byrnes, and drummer Sotiris Eliopoulos, as the foursome built up to the introduction of its self-titled record.

Wearing a faded ball cap, lead vocalist Matt Quinn patiently waited under the somber blue lighting before breaking into song. Within seconds, the crowd—primarily composed of indie-loving millennials—bobbed to the beat of the drum. As soon as Quinn reached the chorus, everyone joined in, singing “And drive way up over Mt. Joy/ Where everyone’s free now to move how they feel now.”

Odds are, only Mt. Joy’s most loyal fans know the origins of the band name. After all, it is a reference to a mountain in Valley Forge National Park near Quinn and Cooper’s hometown outside of Philadelphia, Pa. But the title stands for much more than that—it’s representative of a cloud nine, somewhere that frees you from the anxieties and perils of life. And every festival, concert, and playthrough, the band takes you there by virtue of catchy tunes and powerful lyrics.

Mt. Joy’s Wednesday night performance at the Royale was part of its year-long tour, one that has included a trip to Europe and the reveal of its self-titled album. Mt. Joy—the brainchild of Quinn and Cooper, childhood friends and former Conestoga High School classmates—was formed back in 2016. Quinn, a Northeastern graduate, followed his girlfriend out to Los Angeles in hopes of pursuing law school. He attended night classes while working a full-time job and hanging out with Cooper, who coincidentally also moved to L.A. after college. The two longtime friends recorded the song “Astrovan” with Byrnes at a friend’s house and ended uploading it online in September 2016 with little to no expectations.

Hundreds of thousands of listens later, the song blew up on Spotify, and Quinn decided that he had to capitalize on the opportunity of a lifetime. Flashforward two years, and Mt. Joy—now a five-member alternative band—has gone from playing in local venues to touring both nationwide and overseas with its own opening acts.

On Wednesday, Nashville, Tenn. band Arlie, which just released its debut EP Wait, had the privilege of warming up the stage. Frontman Nathaniel Banks stole the show with incredible range and electrifying guitar play. As the gig progressed, Banks unbuttoned his metallic red shirt and bounced across the stage, fluctuating pitch with ease and challenging fellow guitarist Carson Lystad with a string of solos. By the time the song “Water Damage” came around, Banks was flinging his body in a variety of directions, giving the performance every ounce of energy he had. The indie rock vibe was similar to that of Mt. Joy’s music. The upbeat playing style and red stage lighting, however, contrasted Quinn’s theatrics.

As more and more people poured into the Royale, Mt. Joy walked on stage to a host of cheers. Quinn walked back and forth between the microphone and his arsenal of five different guitars before opening up the show with “Bigfoot.” Following the conclusion of the song, he unplugged his electric guitar and switched it out for his acoustic. Quinn, who swapped instruments after practically every song, was just getting started.

The band then performed some of its bigger hits, such as “Jenny Jenkins” and “Astrovan,” the latter of which balances light folk with serious topics of addiction and religion. Both titles prompted the crowd to sing along—Quinn even cued the band to stop silent at the end of “Astrovan,” allowing the fans finish out the lyrics. The decision paid off, as the crowd chimed in at the perfect time with up the band’s iconic words: “I don’t want to see those tears again/ You know, Jesus drives an Astrovan.”

Occasionally, Mt. Joy transitioned from one song to the next by gradually creating suspense. Miclau broke the silence with the keys, then Eliopoulos dropped the beat, and finally Byrnes, Cooper, and Quinn joined in to jumpstart the record. Quinn’s versatility turned heads, especially when he brought out his ukelele to play “Dirty Love.”

Throughout the night, Mt. Joy alternated between heartening and solemn tunes, both lighting up the room and forcing its fans to contemplate the hardships of life. Some of the band’s songs are a reflection of Quinn’s experiences and inner-struggles. For instance, “I’m Your Wreck” details the difficulty of maintaining a relationship while touring across the country. Others apply universally and address national issues. Aside from its soothing melody, the song “Sheep”—originally written in the midst of the Baltimore police riots—serves a political commentary on the lingering racial tensions within the United States. Quinn urges people to detach themselves from the herd and take a stand against discrimination.

The band closed with the same song it performed on Conan and CBS This Morning earlier this year: “Silver Lining”—not only Mt. Joy’s most popular tune, but one that truly encapsulates the group’s underlying message. Quinn sings about finding a silver lining in today’s times—a period dominated by social unrest—and telling loved ones really how you feel. Toward the end of the song, Cooper aggressively strummed his electric guitar, stringing together what is easily the band’s most captivating solo of the album. Quinn quietly mouthed the final lines of the lyrics to the raucous applause of the energetic crowd and followed his bandmates off the stage, pumping his fist in the air.

For two minutes, fans chanted for an encore, and to their chagrin, Quinn trotted back on stage, nearly tripping over a power cord. He walked up to the microphone and confessed to the crowd that sometimes the coolest things in life almost make you trip.

After singing a song by himself, Quinn was joined by the rest of the band to perform one final title, “Cardinal.” Harping on his childhood days, the Devon, Pa. native sang of cold Pennsylvania winters and tailgating at Philadelphia Eagles games under the shadow of I-95. It was a reminder that, even though Mt. Joy has gained close to 10,000 followers on Instagram this past year and released its first album, the band hasn’t forgotten its roots and is still just as genuine as it was when it started its journey back in 2016.  

Featured Image by Bradley Smart / Heights Editor

Photos by Bradley Smart / Heights Editor

September 30, 2018