Tough task, these days. Not for the weak-livered. So prepare. While you're listening to the incredible Watson Twins, get some of that vegan food from Food for Thought, and make sure you're hydrated. Then let those wonder Twins set you in the right mood for Magnolia. Really, if they were triplets they would have been perfect to play the sirens in "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" Steeped in old-timey, country music with sweet voices born a hundred years ago, the Watsons are a frequent fluffer for Magnolia Electric Co, and I've never seen the latter paired better than with the former. It's almost as if they are one person split in two, sharing one guitar and supporting each other's vocals.
Molina spared us the moon and the stars to start, choosing a "Montgomery/Hammer Down" medley to open the set and opting for the up tempo country rock version of "Hammer Down" -- from the recently released four-disc compilation "Sojourner" -- rather than the country folk original, and it sounded more like something from The Band's "Last Waltz" than a coal-mining version of Neil Young and Crazy Horse that we're used to. "Talk to Me Devil, Again" kept the tempo above the band's usual midrange, but opened the festivities with the first line, "Roll the moon over my heart."
Rule change: One shot per song. After that "full moon went walking with blue eyes, without me," a couple of times during "Bowery," I was feeling the Irish whiskey. And the set had downshifted into the slower territory Molina used to play in so well as Songs: Ohia. I didn't want to risk a standing slumber. Magnolia pulled somewhat of a surprise out of their expansive song catalog, playing the beautiful, forlorn "It's Easier Now" from Molina's 2006 solo album "Let Me Go Let Me Go Let Me Go," and the shots kept coming.
Another rule change: After that "sickle moon" over "Lonesome Valley," take shots only for songs with "moon" in the title. That took some of the pressure off, and I kicked back and enjoyed one of the fan favorites, "Leave the City," complete with the trumpet thanks to keyboardist Michael Kapinus. It's quintessential Magnolia: mid-tempo, blue collar country rock. But then "Memphis Moon" finished me. Dreaded rule changes. Molina never actually sings "moon" on this one, yet I was set to swaying even before the lonely driving song "Texas 71" began. That song's big finish -- "Texas 71" sung over and over -- was one of the set's highlights.
Like "Hammer Down," "Hard to Love a Man" was another song from "What Comes After the Blues" that was given more of a rock and roll treatment, and the set moved out of the down-tempo stage, but things were fuzzy to me, then -- my sobriety long gone, most of next paycheck lost with it. Molina may lean on roads and devils and ghosts and stars and moons -- many, many moons -- too heavily, but they work so well for his sad and lonely songs, particularly those moons, a perfect motif for the light and dark contrasts in his words and music. Thankfully, Molina spared me the north stars, except for that one in "Leave the City," but I was almost ready for a new beer anyway. Despite all of that weighty material, the band seemed to have a blast playing it.
To finish the set, the band called upon the Watson Twins' bassist, letting Pete Schreiner move over to steel guitar for the last three songs -- first, the rollicking country of "You Win Again;" next, two powerful and haunting slow-to-mid-paced songs, "Farewell Transmission," the opening song on Songs: Ohia's "Magnolia Electric Co." album that served as the bridge between Molina's shedding that name in favor of this one, and "Steve Albini's Blues," which rocked in comparison with the Songs: Ohia original. A weighty finish. They came back quick for the encore, because why make their fans wait and "because it's just us." "Shiloh Temple Bell," a solo acoustic hymn read by Molina on record, was given the full band treatment live, and as such, it gained that sort of definitive status Magnolia Electric Co's live sets often provide Molina's solo recordings. Another powerful, if not rocking song.
Magnolia Electric Co Drinking Game prize: Stumbling home alone down D.C.'s dark side streets beneath an orange harvest moon.