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words by Kristina Ensminger

Who: Midnight Masses

What: The first of two reunion shows after a year-long hiatus

Where: Zebulon– Brooklyn, NY

When: January 5, 2012

Midnight Masses was born from death. After unexpectedly losing his father—who was both a music lover and a Catholic preacher—Autry Rene Fulbright II traveled to Austin and collaborated with friend (and current …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead bandmate) Jason Reece to construct the foundation of what would become Midnight Masses. After the release of their four-song EP, Rapture Ready, I Gazed at the Body, there was an avalanche of press praise, noteworthy live performances, and a growing collection of contributors; the Masses momentum was increasing exponentially. But at the peak of the buzz buildup, producer and close friend, Gerard Smith of TV on the Radio, passed away and the project came to a halt.

The first word from Masses after their hiatus was the announcement of two last-minute reunion shows in Brooklyn—the first of which was at Zebulon, followed by a set at Union Pool two days later. The “stage” at Zebulon wasn’t designed for a 10-piece collective, but the close quarters made for a very intimate, band-in-your-living-room setting. The lineup included three of the four core members—Fulbright, Eric Rodgers and Destiny Montague—as well as a handful other guest musicians who added strings, a trombone, and extra percussion to the mix, creating a Spector-like Wall of Sound.

The set opened with the lyrical graves and rattlesnake tambourine shakes of “Burial Song”—which references Mogwai’s “My Father, My King” and the Jewish prayer “Avinu Malkeinu”—and went straight into the bleak Southern Gothic road trip, “Debtor’s Song.” But before things became too dismal, the ethereal five-part harmonies of “Heaven” broke through with a hopeful burst. Throughout the night harpist Ellena Phillips was an angelic force—both visually and sonically—and her delicate strums and enchanting energy tempered the darkness with a radiant light.

Toward the end of the set during the cover of Sonic Youth’s “Do You Believe in Rapture?” people sat on the venue floor, arms locked and legs crossed, rocking together and singing along. Fulbright dedicated “Polly Come Home” to the memory of Gerard Smith—a cover song he recorded the day that Smith passed—and violinist Adriana Molello played a heartrending solo to accompany the drowsy duet. The closing song “Desperate Man,” an out-of-body reflection from the balcony of the afterlife, ended with an a cappella group harmony that seemed to fuel the spirit’s final ascension.

Although there are no set deadlines, Fulbright has plans to release the long overdue LP at some point soon. In the meantime, he wrote a short film based on the music of Midnight Masses, “Now Here is Nowhere,” starring “Walk on Water” vocalist and friend Jaleel Bunton (TV on the Radio), which will be released in collaboration with Illium Pictures. The film focuses on the war between angels and demons—that happen to be trapped on Earth in the form of Beat Generation poets. “It’s kind of like Jesus Christ Superstar meets Gummo,” Fulbright explained.

While discussing his schedule crunch and project overload in the coming year (he’s currently in Austin recording the next …Trail of Dead record, and working on a debut album for his Masses side project, Haunted Hauses) Fulbright notes that, despite all of his grand plans, he could easily drop dead tomorrow…and according to him that would be fine. “One thing that I’ve learned is that life is full of wonderful, beautiful, tragic, fucked up, amazing uncertainty. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

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