By Steve Yang
Basking in the glow of the warm fluorescent lights of a packed Bob’s Underground Cafe this past Tuesday night, the Philadelphia indie folk band, Norwegian Arms, danced and bobbed through an exciting performance of mandolin-infused songs inspired by bands such as Fleet Foxes and Animal Collective.
Chalked up as a success for both the Concerts Committee and the start of the new school year, the Norwegian Arms performance provided an energetic boost to the school’s program lineup for this year.
The process of bringing Norwegian Arms to Grinnell began when Moira Donovan ’14, SGA Concerts Chair, received a particularly interesting call from the band’s manager, Brendan Mulvihill, who is also the lead singer and mandolinist.
“The band’s singer contacted us to perform at Grinnell, and what’s really interesting is that he was actually interested in attending Grinnell [as a student, previously],” Donovan said.
Donovan then forwarded the Arms’ music and information along to the rest of the committee, who would decide whether or not to bring the band to campus. Norwegian Arms was thoroughly evaluated by each member of the Committee in order to ensure the widest appeal possible.
“The Concerts Committee liked the band, and we wanted to host more shows in Bob’s Underground,” Donovan said.
The band’s background is worldly and well-suited for the Grinnell bubble. Self-classified as “Philadelphia Weirdo-Folk,” the band consists of singer Mulvi-hill, who performs under the pseudonym “Keith Birthday,” drummer Eric Slick who goes by “Dr. Awkward” and vocalist and keyboardist “Vandy.” Their expertise radiates through the lyrics of Mulvihill, who began writing songs while working as a Fulbright Scholar in Russia, sculpting the music that would eventually become their debut EP, “Wolf Like a Stray Dog.”
Mulvihill is not just a musician, but a social entrepreneur and global explorer, having just returned from Chile, where he taught English through American folk music. During his Fulbright stay in Russia, his Siberian travels inspired sunny songs of bubbly optimism in the heart of the tundra and have become a study on cultural awe that pairs well with his wistful crooning. The EP, “Wolf Like A Stray Dog,” deals with thoughts of homesickness, discovery and wanderlust.
Mulvihill’s mandolin is the keystone of the band, pervasive throughout all of their music. Despite constantly changing locations, Norwegian Arms’ music always harkens back to their native Philadelphia. Their music is a celebration of personal understanding; Mulvihill supports the idea that life is about the journey, not the destination.
By the end of the night, the vibe in Bob’s Underground was upbeat and optimistic, resonating from the band’s own energy and a strong overall performance.
“I feel like the energy was really nice, the influences of the band were varied and they came at it with a good sense of humor,” said Phillip Gentle ’17.
Elena Gartner ’14, a manager of Bob’s Underground, was glad to see such a crowded room, and is excited for the new semester for the cafe.
“I thought the concert was really well-received,” Gartner said. “The band really fit in with the atmosphere of Bob’s Underground. The audience was very diverse, and I saw a lot of new faces.”
The capstone of the night was the band’s rendition of their most popular track, “Jitterbug,” which was very lively and polished. Building up from rhythmically clicking drumsticks to a three-layered sound led by Mulvihill’s mandolin, Arms crafted an incredibly complete sound that did not require the guitar line that sustains the songs of most folk groups. Without forging ahead too quickly, the track moves at an energetic pace appropriate for the focus of the lyrics.
“Jitterbug touches upon the absurdity of modern urban living, being young and going out without acknowledging consequences, recreational slumming, blind ambition and dancing,” said Mulvihill.