MAGNOLIA ELECTRIC CO. with Grand Buffet and Jon-Rae & The River at Lee's Palace, August 5. Tickets: $13.50. Attendance: 350. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Being a Jason Molina fan isn't easy. Not only do you have to contend with figuring out what he's calling his band this week, but you also have to accept that his tortured, fractured drawl and dirge-like epics will make you cry like a little kid. That's fine in the comfort of your own home, but it becomes a little troublesome in the presence of a packed club on a Friday night.
It was only fitting, then, that I was greeted as I walked in to the newly renovated Lee's by the sounds of Jon-Rae & the River , whose latest album, Old Songs For The New Town, had recently won me over and got me comparing them in these pages to the night's headliners only three weeks past.
Unfortunately, only about 50 people got to see them unleash their powerful, deeply spiritual songs. Those who did are probably still reeling from the impact of a song like Two Hands, which makes a solid case for Jon-Rae & the River being the heirs-apparent to the alt-country crown so closely guarded by Will Oldham and Molina.
Just when it seemed like someone could make a killing selling Kleenex, Grand Buffet took the stage and quickly won over the now near capacity crowd. The truly hilarious duo combine Tenacious D and the Beastie Boys to create one of the tightest, most original and entertaining sets this side of Vegas. They have to be seen to be believed.
The stage now set as the faithful politely nudged up to get a better view, Magnolia Electric Co. quietly walked out and got right down to business. It may be true that they only play two types of music, sad and sadder, but Molina and co. had a shy determination and intensity that gave every note and every cracked vocal a sense of hope in the face of despair. Molina even smiled a few times while his band effortlessly went through old and new tunes.
It was no surprise, really, that the songs that got the best response came from the album that gave them their new name (a much better one than Songs: Ohia anyway), and even though they broke into I've Been Riding With The Ghost a little too early for my liking, the chilling Farewell Transmission and elegiac Just Be Simple brought the house down.
As the band walked off and the house lights went up, a mad dash to make the last subway ensued. I was content to hang back and go over the night's high points with a fellow fan who managed to get the last train while I was left high and dry on a deserted platform with only a loonie to my name and no Kleenex for miles.