“If you want me to stop touring, keep yelling my name,” proclaimed a maybe-half-joking Jason Molina upon hearing the cry of an overzealous fan at a rather sparsely populated show Wednesday night. You see, in the ever-shifting stratosphere of the former Songs: Ohia mastermind, the new deal is that the band is the deal, and that’s that. It makes sense – this is, after all, the most time Molina has spent with any one group of musicians in his career, and it shows. The band is tighter and more musically limber than ever; the newer songs sound cohesive and lean, the older ones somehow fresh and revitalized.
Speaking of older songs, there weren’t many to be found in this setlist – the latter-era Songs: Ohia jam “John Henry Split My Heart,” with its imposing Crazy Horse-ish instrumentation, was as far back as it reached. Instead, it culled the majority of songs from the recently released Josephine, as well as 2007’s stunning Sojourner box set. A rousing, energized version of What Comes After The Blues standout “The Dark Don’t Hide It” proved a highlight of the evening, and as the fervent group of fans crowded around the stage and sang along word-for-word, a taken-aback Molina smiled and shook his head in shy bewilderment.
Molina’s very deliberate transition from goth-folk troubadour to rock 'n' roll frontman has not only been tricky for music critics who can’t seem to write about Magnolia Electric Co. without dragging up the past (case in point: me), but has also prompted a sort of withdrawal in the guy’s music. While the sizzling classic-rock bombast of the band is in and of itself outstanding, what made Songs: Ohia records like Didn’t It Rain so goddamn special was the naked immediacy. As Molina journeys farther into the mythos of the band, the man himself retreats into the background – exactly, it would seem, how he wants it.