Jason Molina’s reputation as a prickly, self-important
artist is in jeopardy. To wit: Upon taking the stage at
Detroit’s Magic Stick this past Friday, he politely asked the
house to turn the lights down, turned back to his five-piece band
The Magnolia Electric Co. and said, “You know how to start
it.”

Given his band’s penchant for ringing country-rock,
there’s no reason Molina shouldn’t be in a good mood.
Molina re-configured Neil Young and Crazy Horse as an alt-country
juggernaut, infusing his Midwestern poetry with a sense of urgency
missing from his early, sub-folk records.

The band stuck to mostly new material, trying out new songs like
“Hammer Down” in front of a sparse but appreciative
crowd. Songs from last year’s Magnolia Electric Co. were
rollicking crowd-pleasers.

Molina, for his part, was a changed man. He thanked the crowd
for their support and ignored the clanking glasses and murmurs that
persisted throughout his set. His voice — a
fire-and-brimstone mix of Young and Van Morrison — grew
stronger as the show progressed. Any self-importance melted away
during a rousing cover of country staple “Mamas Don’t
Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys.” For the encore, the
band re-imagined “Steve Albini’s Blues” as a
slow-leak psychedelic jam, and closed up shop with Bob
Dylan’s “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere,”
playfully singing the “Whoa-oooohs” of the chorus to an
exultant audience.

Molina’s transformation from dark troubadour to
classic-rock mastermind was well-documented on record, but
it’s his revelatory live show that truly proves how far
he’s come as an artist. Knowing full well the soulful,
communal power of a great band, Molina has assembled just that: a
group of rag-tag Midwesterners, paying homage to all of the great
country and rock greats, and doing so jubilantly.

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