It's a source of pride for me that I jumped on the Magnolia Electric Co.
bandwagon back when it was, well, just a wagon with no band attached. The first time I heard Jason Molina, MEC's singer/guitarist, was about six years ago. He was a solo artist then, performing under the moniker Songs:Ohia
, and I fell in love with his steady voice and heartbreaking lyrics. I was so in love that three years later (when I wasn't quite 21 and Molina was playing Portland but only at Berbati's) I drove to Seattle for one night only to see him perform live at the all-ages Paradox.
What I remember most about that show (aside from nervously approaching Molina outside the venue after his performance, where I stammered something like, “Man, you were great and I am such a huge fan and I drove all the way from Portland and wow, you were really great and…”) was Molina and his guitar, alone on stage. When he sang, he stared off into the distance, making eye contact with the non-existent person who inspired those lyrics about lost love and homesickness. The audience—which was scarce, since Songs: Ohia was the opening act for Minnesota indie-rockers Low—seemed irrelevant. Molina had demons to exorcise, and it didn't matter if anyone witnessed it.
Seeing Magnolia Electric Co., the band Molina has been performing with since 2003, headline at Someday Lounge last night bore little resemblance to my experience seeing Songs:Ohia in Seattle five years ago. At first impression, the show seemed less intimate. Someday was packed with people, some singing loudly and dancing, others holding newly-purchased MEC CDs from the merch table. Molina looked like he was hiding, with a wide-brimmed straw hat pulled down far over his eyes. And the music MEC played—which sounds like Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young and is filled with lyrics about trying to change old ways—is far more hopeful than Songs: Ohia's 20-album catalog. MEC is faster, louder, and blues-ier than Molina's folksy singer-songwriter solo work.
But with each song the five-piece band played, I realized that this Molina was uninhibited and unafraid. He actually connected with the audience, complaining about how sunny the weather in Portland was that day: “If you just kept the clouds all the time, I'd move here,” he said. When MEC played “Dark Don't Hide it,” the crowd went up in a roar, a fan yelling out, “Jason, you're the best!”
During “Hammer Down,” Molina jumped around on stage, looking, well, happy
. The backing band made him complete, like he had always been searching for people who identified with his sadness, and once he found them, he couldn't help but make music with them. It's the same reason why fans of sad bastard music who would usually sit alone in their rooms, listening to records and crying, will haul themselves to a show: To be around other people who understand how they feel.
As a fan, I still felt like MEC's songs lost some of the richness and clarity of Molina's solo work, and I'm a little disappointed that this newfound happiness might mean less songs about love and longing. But I'll still have that memory of a solemn Molina, standing along on a Seattle stage, to keep me company when I'm alone in my room, listening to Songs: Ohia and smiling.
Check out the video below to see Magnolia Electric Co. perform "Talk to Me Devil, Again."
Photos and video by Paige Richmond