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As the NC Museum of Art's summer concert series begins to wind to a close, the pattern of sold-out concerts continued with Mipso's performance. Unsurprisingly, the hometown-based (UNC!) but widely-known band attracted a large audience that completely filled the Joseph M. Bryan, Jr., Theater in the Museum Park. The outdoor amphitheater was a perfect venue for Mipso's genre-bending, intimate music.
Speaking of genre, while Rolling Stone used the word "country" to describe Mipso, this quartet is truly hard to pin down. Folk, indie, Americana, string-band, alt-country, or any combination of these terms have been used, making their music accessible to a wide audience. In other words, anyone who appreciates musical skill, warmth and sincerity in both texture and songwriting, or an easygoing charm would love Mipso. While their five studio albums certainly reflect this (most recently 2018's Edges Run), there's a certain something that is best experienced live. Maybe it's the expertly-balanced harmonies without the screen of post-production, or feeling the vibrations of a fiddle and string bass in person. Or maybe it's simply listening to quality music under the stars!
Mipso's opener, Robert Ellis, has certainly found a niche for himself as a Texas Piano Man (which also happens to be the name of his latest album). While a country inflection is certainly present in his voice, his upbeat piano playing and jaunty melodies speak of pop influence too. His set was definitely enjoyable, with a balance of sincere ballads (such as the personal ode "Father") and groovy up-tempo tunes infused with wry humor ("Nobody Smokes Anymore" or the jingle "Topo Chico"). Families with young children may have been dismayed at Ellis' occasional profanity, but to most, it probably didn't take away from his fun performance.
Mipso bassist Wood Robinson, fiddle player Libby Rodenbough, mandolin player Jacob Sharp, and guitarist Joseph Terrell all met as students at UNC-Chapel Hill but have long since outgrown campus parties and Cat's Cradle where they once played. There were tons of highlights from this concert, like when the four gathered around one microphone at the front of the stage for a "living room" level of intimacy (there are lovely pictures of this moment on Twitter, @mipsomusic), or the extended fiddle solo in the middle of "Edges Run." Mipso is renowned for their impeccable harmonies, displayed in the plucky "Down to the Water," which even included a bit of a canon at the end, unique to this live performance. Rodenbough and Terrell performed much of the solo vocals, both with a smooth, warm tone and a little huskiness from Terrell.
Toward the end of the concert, several special guests made appearances – Kate Rhudy added another cheerful voice and fiddle to the mix; then, Andrew Marlin (of Mandolin Orange) brought his instrument onstage through the end of the concert and for not one, but two encore songs – "Red Eye to Raleigh" and a cover of Bonnie Raitt's "Nick of Time." If anyone in the audience wasn't a fan of Mipso before coming to the concert, they most likely are now!