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Mutual Admiration Society leaves crowd admiring them

The Paradise, Boston, Aug. 12, 2004

By Jeffrey B. Remz

BOSTON - The name Mutual Admiration Society borders on the generic and well not very exciting either.

Who wants to see a band where everyone's necessarily bowing at their band mate's feet?

But maybe look at it anther way - the acronym for the group is MAS - Spanish for "more," and in the case of this touring band, the sum be greater than the parts.

They are very very big parts indeed. The group is spearheaded by the three members of the very popular modern bluegrass group Nickel Creek plus Glen Phillips, the leader of the pop band Toad the Wet Sprocket.

For touring purposes, MAS added a few super heavyweights. On drums was Pete Thomas best known for his work with Elvis Costello & The Attractions.

And on bass was John Paul Jones, formerly known as being the bassist for Led Zeppelin.

During the 100-minute show, it seemed to be the crowd who was more admiring of the band than the band members of each other.

With good reason. The set mixed songs from MAS' July debut album (Jones and Thomas do not play on the disc recorded in December 200) plus songs from Nickel Creek, Toad and Led Zep.

Phillips is a very fine singer with a smoothness to his voice. Like the rest of the group, he seemed to warm up as the evening wore on. He also possesses a likable stage presence.

The strength of the group is in the playing. The Nickel Creek folks - Chris Thile on mandolin, Sean Watkins on acoustic and his sister, Sara Watkins, on fiddle, know their way around their instruments.

Thile is particularly energetic, spicing the mandolin with a tremendous amount of vigor and energy and with a shake of his head and neck. Thile underscored time and again why he such a capable mandolinist even though he is in his early 20's.

While perhaps not quite at the same physical energy level, Sara Watkins turned a similar trick on her fiddle playing. She also took some lead vocals quite well, especially the very funny "Anthony," where she played ukulele.

The crowd responded time and again to such songs as "Smoothie Song," a big one for Nickel Creek and "All I Want" for Phillips (a Toad song).

Several lulls occurred during the set where the music proved a bit too tame, but that would eventually change.

As for Jones, he was content most of the time to stand in the back doing yeoman's work on bass. There was no star quality about him personality-wise, though, of course, the crowd understandably ate up everything he did. Truth be told, he along with Thomas, did a great job in forging a very strong rhythm section throughout.

Jones also turned in a strong performance of Zep's "Going to California," introduced as "This is something I used to do sort of, sort of a long time ago." Jones played mandolin to Sean Watkins' guitar.

For the first of two encores, the group played "Gallows Pole," a Zep song introduced by Thile as a "classic English folk tune." They turned in a strong performance of that along with the evening's closing number, a cover of Keith Whitley's "You Don't Have to Move That Mountain."

The name Mutual Admiration Society may not have moved mountains, but the band sure moved a crowd with great playing and fine interplay along on songs old and new.

©Country Standard Time • Jeffrey B. Remz, editor & publisher •
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