On the eve of the first anniversary of the premature and tragic death of Jason Molina, a group of his former band mates came together to celebrate his life and his work with a one-off show in Los Angeles, a show that the band members had flown from all over the country to attend. For a new Jason Molina fan (it was not until after his death that I made the plunge into his back catalogue), the show was both an unmissable treat and the ultimate bittersweet affair. The truth about approaching an artist’s discography posthumously is that the experience is tinged with both the thrill of discovery and sadness that new music will never be added.
Throughout a prolific career recording under the monikers of Songs:Ohia and the Magnolia Electric Co. (the former released three albums in the year 2000 alone), Molina showed a remarkable consistency and character, establishing himself as one of America’s great unknown songwriters. I stress America because his music was so clearly drawn on American tradition, rooted in quiet folk early in his career before progressing to a fuller roots rock sound.
Molina was also a generous musician. His music was as much about the band he was playing with as himself, to the extent that he regularly wrote songs with other people in mind as vocalists. As such, the show at the Church on York, which involved just about everyone on the stage taking lead vocals at some point, did not feel inappropriate. In fact, it was quite the opposite. In a room filled with positive energy, the band played a selection of Molina’s songs, although it was inevitable that the setlist would be weighted towards the second half of that career during which many of these guys played with Molina.
The set was also more weighted towards songs from the album officially titled Magnolia Electric Co., the moment at which the latter half of Molina’s career took flight. The band sounded, as expected, like a group that had played together for years as they performed the likes of “Old Black Hen” and “What Comes After The Blues” with the aid of additional band members and vocalist MC Taylor from Hiss Golden Messenger. Some of the renditions were more raucous than the originals, as the band members played as if it was their last show together. Yet the most impressive moment was a wonderful performance of “Lioness,” an early career highlight that is also a clear indicator of Molina’s strengths as a songwriter of rare power.
No additional shows are currently planned, and with Molina’s profile remaining relatively obscure (certainly in comparison to the more celebrated likes of Elliott Smith, who was similarly lost way too young), it’s hard to see a huge demand for more of these shows. Yet nights like this, and the enthusiasm with which each song was met, are merely a reminder of why Molina’s legacy has to be kept alive. It’s such a cliche (and I can’t help but sound trite saying it) that one’s music lives on long after death, but in Molina’s case, you really will it to do so. This was an evening filled with celebration, emotion, and flat-out great music from the guys who knew him best.
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