In Concert – Magnolia Electric Co.

Rocking Sandworm - artwork zoer

Ever since The Sandworm went bilingual earlier this year and started publishing travel reports in English, it turned out that these articles were quite popular. Not only because I usually write about places that don’t get written about that often, but also because I like to write about things that don’t fall into the usual touristy categories (You can find all the articles under the link „English“, to your right). So in order to move things along here at The Sandworm, I have decided to enlighten you even further and to start publishing English reviews of the concerts I visit.

But before I get to the point, which this time centers around the gig Magnolia Electric Co. played last week in Vienna, I shall warn you in advance what you’re not going to read about in any of the concert reviews I am going to publish. I won’t be able to cite a complete set list, because that’s not why I go and listen to concerts in the first place. I don’t care much whether this song or that one got played and whether it was an older version of the original song, or if the band was actually covering somebody else’s song. Don’t get me wrong, I usually do know a majority of the songs of the bands I will go and see, but what I most care about is whether the music that night was great. Whether the audience had a good time and if able to determine, whether the band enjoyed their gig as well. I won’t know if the bass player was off key, but I’ll tell you if the band was able to transmit something beyond just a tune or a song, whether they were able to convey a certain mood, a specific feeling, whether they were capable of letting you forget for that one evening where you lived and what kind of problems bothered you and whether you went home that night thinking „Wow, what a terrific concert!“. That’s what you’re going to read about here at The Sandworm.

Magnolia Electric Co. at Wuk, Vienna, Austria, October 12, 2009. Photo credit: Martin Voglhuber

This time it’s all about Magnolia Electric Co., which accomplished every single one of the above outlined criteria that make up a good, a great, concert. The band, a collective of 4 guys and one Jason Molina, who’s the center the band gravitates around and who had had other quite successful musical projects in the past, had been booked for a gig to be played on October 12 2009, at a Viennese venue called WUK. The WUK is one of the mid-sized places in Vienna, holding up to 600 people in its large hall, and actually one of the better concert locations, of which, in my opinion, there aren’t many in Vienna.

It was a Monday night and winter had let everybody in Vienna know that even though October may officially still count as fall, it was the same as with the rest of the things that usually happen in this country, which is that nobody really gives a damn about anything „official“. And so it was freezing cold outside when I was on my way to the venue, which is located in the 9th Viennese district and where I found myself with a handful of other music lovers, who all looked as miserable as I must have, when I entered the place. Fortunately, that was soon going to change.

The opening act was delivered by a guy called Chris Brokaw, who did a great job in setting the right tone for an evening, which would quickly make everybody forget the dreadful weather outside. About 45 minutes of singer-songwriter type music, rather low key, passed and after a short break, a refill of my beer at the bar, a quick conversation with two friends there, I was ready for Magnolia Electric Co. And so was the rest of the audience, which by this time was thankfully beginning to fill the place up (there’s hardly anything more disappointing than a half filled concert hall…).

I had seen the band two years ago at a place called Szene Wien, where they played quite a good concert, but in my point of view, their songs had been arranged in a way, that was just a bit too much on the slow/melancholy side. So I was quite anxious how the gig would turn out, because Magnolia Electric Co.’s last album „Josephine“, despite being a beautiful album, is rather laid-back and contemplative, and with the weather outside I was in desperate need for something to lift my spirits.

Finally the band entered the stage, Molina seemed to be in a good mood, they took up their instruments and started the first tunes of the song that gave the last album its name. „Josephine“, which is in fact a heavy-hearted song and so my heart starting sinking as well, dreading the prospect of lugging myself home in the freezing cold after everbody got a good dose of depression. But thank goodness, I was wrong and after just a few notes of „Josephine,“ almost as if the band had tried to play a joke on us, they stopped short, hit the drums, struck the chords of their guitars and rocked.

Which is what they did for most of the evening and the crowd was thankful – everybody there seemed to have come out to get a fix of that very effective anti-depressant called Alt-Country. Not because it doesn’t have its melancholy moments, which the concert had too, for example with the beautiful „Shenandoah“, but because it has got this quality that makes you think of the southern regions of the US, where it’s usually warm, or at least you picture it as a warm place, and where people address you with „honey“ without sounding condescending, where everything runs just a little bit slower, more relaxed, with a beer in your hand and a rocking chair. Cliché? Maybe so, but what else do you go to a concert for? Not to get exactly the life you already get every normal day of the week. At least I don’t.

And I didn’t that night either. I got what I had hoped for, more so, because Molina and his band-mates not only managed to get me rocking, swaying along to the songs, which get that special quality from Molina’s sometimes very Neil Young-like tenor, but he actually took me on a trip to Memphis, Tennessee. Simply by wearing a T-Shirt. A shirt which caught my attention the moment he had taken off his jacket and had revealed the following print: Frontside „Gus’s world famous fried chicken“. Backside „You haven’t eaten chicken until you’ve eaten Gus’s fried chicken. Downtown Memphis“. I had been to Memphis and because of the fact that it was there that I had eaten what I now, even years later, would still rate as the best barbequed spare-ribs of my life, I took that Gus’s claim of serving the world’s best fried chicken very seriously.

And so there I was, physically in Vienna, at the WUK, with horrible weather raging outside, emotionally thousands of miles away. In Memphis, listening to a terrific set of Magnolia Electric Co., feeling warm and happy and musing over the fact whether I would ever make it back to Tennessee to give Gus’s famous fried chicken a try. And I am quite sure that the rest of the audience was in an equally satisfactory state of mind, considering that when we left the building, I couldn’t make out a single miserable face in the crowd. And for that matter, it seemed as if the band had had a great night too, for it was on our way out when we passed three of the band members, who were at this point peacefully smoking their cigarettes, who smiled at us and personally bid us farewell with a most cheerful „good night!“. It goes without saying that we thanked them and invited them to come back to Vienna. Soon, please!

Links to the bands:

Chris Brokaw

Magnolia Electric Co.

Susanne, October 18 2009

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