This was exactly the sort of weather-perfect evening that inspired Plush's outdoor expansion. An unusually sizeable school-night crowd found plenty of elbow room inside and out to enjoy the show, which spliced San Francisco's Court and Spark into the middle of a Milton Mapes/Magnolia Electric Co. tour stop.
The tour is in support of the latter's debut, What Comes After the Blues, Jason Molina's first release since retiring his stripped-down Songs: Ohia incarnation. The new project takes its name from the seventh and final Songs: Ohia release. Produced by Steve Albini, that 2003 album set Molina's moody, intelligent blue-collar rock in a full band with an overall sound that's drawn comparisons to Neil Young's Harvest period. It defined the aesthetic that now "Comes After."
At Plush, Molina's gentle melodies looped through the mid-tempo rock of a six-piece band, loud and confident with the occasional Carlos Santana reference on guitar. "What Comes After ..." songs included crowd-favorite "Texas," featuring a bass part as empathetic as it was economical.
Fans seemed to respond most warmly to the quirky and atmospheric Court and Spark. M.C. Taylor's café au lait vocals coasted engagingly through the quiet opener, a duo with guitar and toy xylophone. Missing their drummer, the band tried using a drum machine for the early, folkier and more spacious numbers, but they were soon rescued by Magnolia's stickmeister. As the set progressed, more players took the stage, and the energy amped up to full-rock mode, but the soft-loud dynamics and textured arrangements kept the crowd rapt for the ride through country, folk, blues and soul influences. "First Light at Avalon" was a set highlight, wrapped around one of Lindsey Buckingham's best-known riffs from "Never Goin' Back Again."
Greg Vanderpool's Tucson connections made the Milton Mapes set shine. In the audience, among family friends was a Tucson uncle, son of the grandfather for which the band is named. Now living in Austin, Vanderpool often visited Arizona as a kid, so perhaps we can take some credit for his distinctive blending of indie- and country-rock. Unquestionably, the idyllic Arizona desert evening made his song "Bowie, AZ" the hit of the set. The song is from the band's new release, The Blacklight Trap.