When MJ Lenderman performs with his backing band, the musicians barely fit on stage. At one point, the Wind ballooned to eight members because the self-professedly “conflict avoidant” frontman couldn’t bear to kick anybody out. Standing with his electric guitar, behind the pedal steel and the occasional keyboard, Lenderman leads from within his band, a fitting stance for a musician who quit basketball because he couldn’t muster a competitive attitude. As a live ensemble—now generally pared back to a five-piece—MJ Lenderman and the Wind continuously rework the Asheville songwriter’s extensive back catalog, adding a vibrancy to his earlier home recordings that paints them as natural B-sides to his exuberant studio debut, 2022’s Boat Songs. On And the Wind (Live and Loose!), a live album composed of recordings from two shows during summer 2023, Lenderman and his band elevate his dreamlike narratives into something joyous, collective, and free.
“The less people hear me talk, the more they can project on me or think I’m a smart guy,” Lenderman said in an interview earlier this year. True to form, the frontman hardly utters a word between songs across the album. When he does speak up, during the minimalist groove that leads into “You Are Every Girl to Me,” it’s only to credit his collaborators—Wednesday bandmate Xandy Chelmis on the pedal steel, Ethan Baechtold on bass, Colin Miller on drums, Jon Samuels (also of Philadelphia bands Friendship and 2nd Grade) on lead guitar, and a special appearance from Lenderman’s girlfriend and Wednesday lead singer Karly Hartzman as a third guitarist and backing vocalist. The band’s chemistry is obvious throughout the record: Chelmis’ pedal steel melts almost imperceptibly into the empty spaces on “Toontown,” lending an extra sigh to Hartzman and Lenderman’s harmony of rodeo clowns. There, as with other Boat Songs cuts like “Under Control,” the band approaches the song as a marathon, not a sprint, Samuels’ riffs carving new paths into familiar rhythms.