Hopeforadawnchorusatthemagnoliaelectricco: File under ‘pop/country/rock’
Warm strains of indie pop-country-rock saturated the dusk air on the lawn behind the Stone Building at UNCG Sunday as three bands played in honor of the release of a new WUAG 103.1 FM compilation entitled Sub-Rosa.
The opening band Hope For Agoldensummer, an experimental folk unit from Athens, Ga., is beginning to build a national following by working the college circuit. Dawn Chorus, a local band that includes Gate City Noise proprietor Andrew Dudek, has been quietly amassing a strong local following. The headlining act Magnolia Electric Co. is a tuneful country rock perennial that’s burst into full flower.
Greensboro has its share of cover bands and forgettable dance music, so WUAG and Gate City Noise have staked distinctive ground by promoting all-original acts. Sub-Rosa features 18 of those bands, some local and some from out of town. The songs were recorded live in the studio or at WUAG-sponsored concerts around town from August 2004 through February 2005. The artists range from the soulful experimentalism of Menomena to the irrepressible rockabilly of the Tremors and the tender folk of Julie Doiron.
Only one of the bands featured on Sub-Rosa, Hope For Agoldensummer, played Sunday, but no doubt recordings of the concert will end up on future compilations.
Hope plays a brand of indie folk music that caresses your subconscious, refracting lost moments like between sleep and wakefulness. The songs are built around the vocal harmonizing of sisters Claire and Page Campbell. A menagerie of instruments such as the xylophone, singing saw, accordion and service bell add texture while the cello playing of the classically-trained Will Taylor takes the virtuoso lead position.
I’m certain Hope has soared higher ‘— their I Bought A Heart Made of Art in the Deep, Deep South CD was ranked best new release by a local band for 2004 by Athens’ Flagpole magazine ‘—’ but perhaps because of the dissolute vibe of a pre-dark outdoor concert they never quite clicked Sunday.
On their last song, ‘“Laying Down the Gun,’” they definitely showed glimmerings of greatness. The delicate melodies surge on a wave of cello sawing, and the sisters sing what might be a manifesto: ‘“Instead of stopping our hearts/ We play our music/ Because we’re rock stars/ We come together and play music/ And we work/ And we fall apart.’”
Dawn Chorus, who had released a homemade double CD in Hickory the night before, is getting better by the day. As with every good and great band, the expert pacing of the drummer ‘— in this case Will Ridenour ‘— holds the enterprise together. The complement of personality and technique between the two guitar players and main songwriters makes Dawn Chorus a lot of fun to watch. Zachary Mull’s raw rhythm guitar playing and the naked emotionalism of his singing balance against the tinkerer’s guitar ethos and self-aware pop vocal stylings of Andrew Dudek. Amy Kingsley’s solid low-end bass creates a formidable anchor.
Every one of the songs they play this night is a gem ‘— among them ‘“The Ocean Is Wide,’” ‘“Blue’” and ‘“A Million Burning Lights’” ‘— songs that contain rage and sadness, and juxtapose slashing rhythm guitar against ethereal feedback from a well-worn acoustic guitar. One of them stands out.
Mull’s ‘“Robin’s Egg’” should be played on every FM rock station. With a voice that aches with impossible longing, Mull sings: ‘“Someone laid a robin’s egg in my heart’” ‘— words that could have many meanings but can’t help but move you. With Dudek playing a combination of whoops and sirens on his guitar, it’s a cool paean to lost and found joy. With the bass line floating free over the sonic boil, the song rocks as hard as Crazy Horse ever did with ‘“Cowgirl in the Sand.’”
After Dawn Chorus, Magnolia Electric Co. ‘— a road-tested unit from Indiana led by Jason Molina that evolved from Songs: Ohia ‘— launches into their first song, with a sound that is a mesh of country textures courtesy of two loud ringing guitars, a lap steel, electric piano, bass and drums.
Molina possesses a voice with the range and timbre of Buck Owens, but he delivers his songs of loneliness and heartbreak with the vulnerable transparency of Neil Young; Magnolia Electric Co.’s sound bears an unmistakable likeness to the aforementioned Crazy Horse, Young’s backing group.
A song like ‘“Dark Don’t Hide It’” is an example of the kind of rocking emotional commitment Molina brings to his craft. Lyrics like ‘“you knew only the kind that would kill ya, so you surrounded yourself with them’”
and ‘“human hearts and pain should never be separated’” signify a rare kind of intrepid explorer plumbing the depths of the human condition. These are grievous songs about the way things can go wrong, but they’re also testaments to the durability of the human heart. Like the Drive-By Truckers, Magnolia Electric Co. has arrived as a full-fledged rock and roll band.
Molina, who’s wearing a black, long-sleeved shirt emblazoned with gothic letters, that reads ‘Mohawk Place, Buffalo, NY,’ says he doesn’t sit down and try to write a certain kind of song. The lonesome imagery is a reflection of having spent the better part of his adult life on the road playing music. The band has been on the road all day after playing the Knitting Factory in New York the night before and will hit Asheville tomorrow.
At about 10:30, Molina announces: ‘“The 5-0’s on the way, so this is our last one. It’s been a pleasure to see you. Please start getting the bail money together.’”
As the band members pack their gear into the van, Molina chats politely with a small huddle of fans, discussing the rigors of the road. No, he says, they won’t be driving to Asheville tonight.
‘“We’re tired as f*ck,’” he says. ‘“No, we’re gonna go find a bar, and burn this town down.’”
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