Megan Jean and the Klay Family Band take the stage well after midnight. She’s wearing striped pants that make her look like a pirate—and I have no option other than to believe she is actually a pirate—and Byrne (the one man Klay Family Band) has sharpened his beard to a point that makes him look like a younger, happier, Rasputin. “Our first song is dedicated to an old friend, a hobo,” says Megan Jean. “He died falling off a train. He was probably high as hell.”
They start playing “The Dead Show,” strumming and stomping and wailing wildly. The two produce more quality sound than any act that’s played before them. The stage is flooded in red light and everything glows like a portal to hell. Megan Jean’s voice is dark, sultry and powerful, full and unmatched, a perfect instrument that she plays without fault. She sticks her tongue out and I’m surprised it isn’t forked.
They’re a married couple from the Carolinas, though they met while working in New York. She worked at an antique store and Byrne, her husband, delivered instruments. “We’ve been playing together for, what? Seven years?” We stood outside chatting before the show, I was smoking a cigarette and trying to act “not too drunk.”
“Playing for seven, professional for five, good for three,” says Megan. “We’ve played over a 1,000 shows together, more than 200 a year.” The couple has been living on the road since 2011. They’re DIY—almost to a fault—making music because they want to. It’s a pure act of passion, they don’t even play with a set list. When they’re on stage, they’re completely in that moment.
Megan Jean and the KFB play above their level. The venue is packed, but they create a sound that deserves a much larger audience. They’re a perfect example of how the music industry is changing, especially as more acts adopt a DIY aesthetic. I ask her what music inspires her, I bring up acts like Jenny Lewis and Amanda Palmer and The Avett Brothers.
Megan Jean waves them off like a puff of smoke. “Lyrics are too important to me. I listen to the lyrics first. A lot of acts have to water their persona down to appeal to a greater audience, and that’s not something we’ve ever been able to do. We make the music we want to make and play it the best we can.” She puts a hand on Byrne. “You know, we want to start a family and pay our bills, and we want to do it without getting day jobs. Right now this thing is a morning, afternoon, and night job, and that’s OK. I have to accept that I might be playing in bars for the rest of my life, and that’s OK.”
“What about a label?” I ask. “Is that something you guys would ever be interested in?”
“I’ve got over $20,000 worth of merchandise in my van. If I sell it all I’ll make $18,000 in profit. If we were on a label then we’d only see $1,000 of that.”
“It’s hard to make art for money without making art for money.”
The set continues on like a dark prayer. Megan Jean starts singing “Hegemon,” a song about an aging hippie who doesn’t know when to keep his mouth shut. She salutes nothingness and belts “I have fallen deep in love with the once and future America. And I believe in inherent truth, and I believe in the good in you.”
It’s probably the best lyric in the entire set. It’s smart, it’s short, it’s perfect. There’s so much to think about, the allusion to Terence Hanbury White, the philosophical implications of inherent truth, and the ultimate hopefulness that’s implied. It’s a brilliant lyric among brilliant lyrics. It’s a moment—not uncommon during a Megan Jean set—when you are taken back. She glares at you maniacally while her husband destroys the banjo, and you feel like something special just happened.
And, as a note on the way she looks into the audience: it’s horrifying. If we stop dancing, will she come down from the stage and hit us? There’s a dark-biblical presence when Megan Jean and the KFB are on stage, like something from the Necrenomicon. Are they time travelers? Are they immortal? Now that I think of it, I’ve never seen them in the sunlight.
A highlight of the evening was a version of “Thriller,” played so perfectly you’d think Michael Jackson stole it. I put down my notes and dance like a zombie. ”This is the best show we’ve had in months,” Megan Jean says from the stage. “I’m playing with the love of my life, my husband, and my best friend.” She nods to Byrne and I swear I see him smile under his beard.
I don’t know if Megan Jean and the KFB will ever be famous, if they’ll make it. They could toil forever in obscurity and, if they do, we’re to blame. It was one of the best shows I’ve been to in a long while. Buy their albums, see them live, support what it is they’re doing because what it is they’re doing is special and rare and important.
5 out of 5, a perfect show.