Hunter Mountain, New York: A flawless Catskill Mountain day at the 10th annual Mountain Jam was glowing with solar energy, ganja smoke and sundresses — setting the scene for a signature moment for The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger. Sean Lennon confirmed it from the stage: “This is the most people we’ve ever played to, and that’s fucking awesome.”
Slotting perfectly into the diverse selection of artists chosen for the festival, the GOASTT offered an exceptional and highly personal expression of their music. There is a warm organic sensory vibe to their compositions, in acoustic or electric format, and that’s all the more accessible in the band’s live performances. The practiced and enthusiastic GOASTT, appearing on the final day of the festival, floated though a set mostly comprised of tracks from their recent release Midnight Sun. In five years, the Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger has under gone a metamorphosis from its humble folk and troubadour beginnings, to its current incarnation of swirling cosmic melodies, spectral harmonies and feedback drenched instrumental interludes. The performance represented a paisley adorned cross section of the duo of Charlotte Kemp Muhl and Sean Lennon’s recent creation.
Opening with the undulating undercurrent of “Too Deep,” the outdoor mountain air allowed the mushy fuzz of the track to dissipate through the tangible air and soak into the minds and ears of intrepid music lovers in the audience. The concert patiently gained momentum as more attendees filled the slopes of Hunter Mountain and the group’s sonic expressions lured in newly converted fans from the outskirts. “Xanadu” and “Animals” followed next, both songs exhibiting a new maturity separate from the LP versions, and containing idiosyncratic details unearthed from on stage practice. The no-nonsense attitude of the band is reflected in the deadly serious psychedelia expressed in the songs.
The title track Midnight Sun followed in a stellar performance, before segueing into early band favorite “Jardin du Luxembourg” through a varicolored instrumental passage. This intense no-mans land between the two songs was highlighted by Lennon’s experimental guitar scrubbing. Combining two of the Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger’s finest songs epitomized both the songwriting abilities and increasing on stage prowess of the group. An obscure and trippy cover of Gandolf’s “Golden Earring” elicited a lush green mystical woodland, encouraged by the surroundings, before summitting to a convulsive middle section dripping with thick organ, syrupy guitars and accentuated drums. The reaction of the assembled crowd at the song’s conclusion is one of awe and satisfaction.
The next major highlight of the performance followed, with a dynamic reading of “Devil You Know.” The impressive Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger vocal blend peels apart in layers, while the diverse instrumentation bobs and weaves through a sweet candy landscape. This standout song from the new LP translates well to the stage, leaving plenty of room for the entire group to shine. Lennon then asked someone on stage how much time the band had left to play, before beginning an expansive and Floyd-esque “Moth to a Flame.” The track spotlights some glossy slide guitar by Robbie Mangano, matched by an equally kinetic Lennon guitar excursion. The band collaborates on a jam of creeping smoke that rises and rises before dissipating into molecules at the songs conclusion.
The concert closed fittingly with a sludgy wade through an instant-classic rendition of Syd Barrett’s “Long Time Gone.” An ace choice of a cover song, Muhl and Lennon collaborate sweetly on the vocals, contrasting the dark blue groove explored by group. Orchestrated and cinematic, the band aggressively digs their fingernails in through start and stop changes before sinking through the crust of the earth in a wash of white noise.
In the end, the performance by the Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger at Mountain Jam this year felt like a definitive moment for the group. Maybe it was pastoral scene, or the priceless weather or the consciousness-expanding music from the stage. More likely, however, it was the result of a a tight band hitting their stride at just the right time in front of a crowd accepting and hoping for new sounds to introduce into their lives.