JASON MOLINA @ The Mint Lounge, Manchester 3/12/07

December 13, 2007

Some months back, Jason Molina performed a compelling acoustic set at Manchester’s Green Room, leaving me and my companions, who are usually only too keen to yap on about music, pretty much hushed and satisfied. The taxi ride home was a quiet one; nothing really needed to be said and any words that did come didn’t seem to do the event any justice.

<br>That Molina, acoustic, clean-shaven, neatly turned out – has, for now at least, disappeared. Tonight, this Molina mooches on stage in an old plaid shirt, cowboy hat, lank hair and moustache, resembling a miniature David Crosby. He even flicks a ‘peace’ V-sign to the audience.He then sets up a tiny Vox amp, hands his Les Paul to a guy in the front row and disappears, returning draped in glittery fabric, which after some effort, he manipulates into a sort of robe. “I found this backstage and made a bet that I could use it on stage”, he says. “It’s a pain in the ass, but I’m a man of my word”.

Kicking at the trailing fabric on the ground, he commences to bust out stark fragments of abrasive guitar in accompaniment of that inimitable voice, playing a set which takes in songs from his recent boxed set and the LPs Fading Trails, Magnolia Electric Co, Let Me Go, What Comes After The Blues, outtakes and songs I don’t recognise – but could well own, so radical are his gleeful reinterpretations of each song.

Virtually every track is rendered in a completely different arrangement to its recorded cousin. ‘Talk To Me Devil Again’ is particularly affecting, with its hushed lyrical highlight, ‘Devil, if I fall / Hold out no hand’. ‘Riding With The Ghost’, with its spoken, stuttered ‘baby … baby … something’s gotta change’, seems as if it is on the brink of falling apart, but makes glorious sense as soon he hits the word ‘change’ with a slight uplift in the melody and sympathetic chord. What you thought you knew, you no longer know, as you watch him make it new.

Jason Molina goes through changes and lives in the moment, outputting wildly as he does so. In his between-song raps, he mentions that he’s recently been doing improvised gigs with pick-up bands and even writes a song on the spot at the end of the set, a stormy, dirgy blues, which turns out to be one of my favourites melodies of the night.

As the set winds on, Molina seems to simmer down, storming on his Les Paul less and less and singing more and more softly, offering a beautiful, surprising ‘Whip-Poor-Will’, before a delicate ‘Hold On Magnolia’ ends the set and surpasses the recorded version. Someone calls for it and he obliges, despite a little mumble of ‘oh, this song’s so sad, I’m not in the mood for it’.

That makes sense, in that this has been such a relaxed and expressive solo show and it seems that by singing these sometimes self-lacerating words, he is laying many ghosts to rest. Journeying alone under a huge sky and mapping out territory that hitherto seemed frightening and forbidding, his voice is his sword. ‘Hold On Magnolia’ is delivered with grace and a generosity of spirit. It might not have quite been where he was at in that moment, but he appreciates that someone out there would love to hear him repeat that feeling, even if it’s not really in his nature to operate that way.

He informs us that he has recently moved to live in London and tells a charming cock-and-bull story about his upcoming gig at the Luminaire (‘you’ve got to come, it’s one of the greatest venues in the world… all sorts of crazy shit’s gonna happen’). It feels strange to think that this singular American songwriter will be sharing an island with us for a while. Who knows what London life will trigger in his heart?

If tonight, his first show since relocating, is anything to go by, the homesickness still hasn’t kicked out yet (‘it breaks my heart to leave this city / I mean it broke what wasn’t broken in there already…’), so let’s see what happens next time I see him play. How will he look, what will he express, what card will he lead with?

Ollie

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