A press release for the Mowgli’s describes the group as the “quintessential California band,” and the folk-pop octet most assuredly belongs to the Golden State, although maybe not from this era. With their debut album “Waiting for the Dawn,” the Los Angeles troupe — one girl, seven guys, some with majestic beards and others with balls of frizz atop their pale heads — has naturally created an image that embraces “universal love” (per the same press release) and eradicates any trace of negativity, serving themselves up as an antidote to the #snark and #sarcasm of the social media age. Their music videos are filled with cartoon hearts, their songs are built around refrains like “Love is simple/Love is easy,” and they often leap into their audiences during live performances. The Mowgli’s, simply put, want you to be happy. And although they’re a major label-affiliated artist still searching for a major fan base (“Waiting for the Dawn” debuted at No. 109 on the Billboard 200 chart last month, and has sold 7,000 copies to date since its release on Photo Finish/Island Records, according to Nielsen SoundScan), those who have invested in their chill vibes are being invited to join innovative fan events that often make the likable group even more endearing.
Such was the case on Tuesday night (July 9), when the Mowgli’s invited media members on a CitySights NY’s “Ride of Fame” tour through New York City for a full acoustic performance prior to their headlining show at Bowery Ballroom. At 8:30 PM, the band climbed atop one of two red double decker tourist buses parked outside the Island Def Jam offices on 57th Street and Broadway, huddled in the front clutching their unplugged instruments and delved into their song “Emily” as their bus and another started creeping toward Times Square (the group switched buses midway to the venue). A pit stop was made to pick up a handful of fans, who had been waiting with painted signs with messages like “I Feel The Love” and “New York <3’s The Mowgli’s.” As the journey downtown continued and the Mowgli’s plowed through the majority of their album, the fans’ singing was only interrupted by the sound of camera clicks, mild rain showers that required white ponchos to be distributed, and the warnings of the bus’ flustered tour guide, who kept yelling “Look out!” in order to avoid someone on the top level of the bus getting clocked by a low-dangling traffic light.
No explanation for the ride was given. At the Island Def Jam offices prior to takeoff, frontman Colin Dieden thanked those who had set up the jaunt as well as the media outlets covering it, and then the eight members proceeded on its merry way. One could view it as a gimmick to draw press, but this is the same group that organized the “Be A Mowgli” campaign, which invites fans to execute random acts of kindness and then report back to the band about the love-spreading via a phone number that the members regularly check. Like everything the Mowgli’s do, the “Be A Mowgli” campaign cheerily shrugs its shoulders at cynics that aren’t down with undefined togetherness.
The “Ride of Fame” tour was another way for the Mowgli’s to show that there’s no other agenda up their sleeves, no grand vision other than orchestrating jamborees and spreading un-ironic joy in as many directions as possible. In this way, its conclusion was supremely fitting: when the buses pulled up to the Bowery Ballroom an hour later, the Mowgli’s were busy performing “San Francisco,” their shambling, hook-laden pop single that has sold 91,000 downloads to date, according to Nielsen SoundScan, and has a real chance at becoming this year’s answer to Grouplove’s 2012 alternative hit “Tongue Tied.” As if on cue, the group exited the double-decker bus while still performing the song and conjured up a sing-along from the onlookers waiting outside the venue, who crowded around Dieden and guitarist Michael Vincze on the sidewalk and swayed dreamily along with the impromptu performance. It was an organically enjoyable moment, and better yet, not unexpected.
The Mowgli’s then proceeded to play a triumphant Bowery Ballroom set that incorporated pre-show incense, four-part harmonies and many, many declarations of love for its audience. “We wrote this song about how sometimes you feel amazing and sometimes you feel shitty,” Dieden told the crowd while introducing “Clean Light” near the end of their performance. “But we’re lucky to feel anything at all, so appreciate the shitty times as much as the amazing times.” The Mowgli’s may not have many revolutionary ideas to offer yet, but the group is doing an excellent job of getting music fans to smile at the commonplace. They turned a humdrum bus ride through New York on a rainy night into something downright special.