Magic Mtn, the newest project from Arthur & Yu frontman Grant Olsen, had their first ever show last night at the Tractor Tavern. Basically just Olsen with a backing band of the Moondoggies, Magic Mtn sounded a great deal like Arthur & Yu. That 60’s dreamy pop vibe was there, the lilting lyrics tripping along at an easy gate. Olsen’s vocals were softened down to a pleasant lo-fi hush and the easy swagger of his songs and stage presence resembled so much of his previous project. His style is ethereal, meandering pop a little bit outside of it’s time. It’s pleasant, woodsy and at it’s best when a lazy guitar jam creeps in and draws it all out.
Don’t Be A Stranger has been a new favorite album of mine for the past year or so. Their sound hearkens back to what feels familiar to me: the outdoors, dusty roads and the beer-soaked nights of the country. It feels like the southern classic rock that was to become the soundtrack of my childhood, and to which my love of music has it’s very base. They were fortunate enough to open for Sera Cahoone two nights in a row last week, and I was fortunate enough to be in attendance at the Saturday show.
Allman Brothers-esque “Black Shoe” was the first song of their set, after lead singer Kevin Murphy played three songs alone without the full band. They played through the songs from their only album, Don’t Be A Stranger, including the soaring “Ol’ Blackbird”, the rollicking piano tune “Save My Soul” and the old-time country jangle of “Long Time Coming” (in which Kevin Murphy directly channels Neil Young I swear). Grant Olsen joined them onstage for “Old Hound”, which was sung in beautiful heartfelt harmony. TheMoondoggies sound like all the great parts of music from the deep south, honest and dirt-clodded, raucous and haunting.
The Tractor Tavern seemed like the quintessential place for a band like the Moondoggies to play. It’s rustic, roomy enough to pack in a small crowd but reasonable enough you don’t feel disconnected from the bands onstage, dusty and a seemingly appropriate place for a saloon-style pick-up rock show to go down. Their live show wasn’t necessarily a disappointment but it lacked a little “oomph” and down-home fun. Unfortunately, the lack of enthusiasm by the large crowd almost made it impossibly to hear much if you were in the back half of the standing area. They aren’t a band for a large venue in my opinion, but with the high level of inconsiderate ambient noise, it sure felt like a large venue.
Looking back I know the venue wasn’t the issue, nor was the band. When you have a big draw like Sera Cahoone, you get a lot of date night couples out to see the brilliant alt-country femme crooner. What you DON’T get is lifestyle show-goers who listen to the bands and pay attention, presumably what they paid their $15 for at the door. I didn’t stay for Sera Cahoone. I had had enough of the tipsy loud broads beside me and the screaming athletic-looking gaggle of gals behind me. Fortunately, the Moondoggies were just enough country and just enough twang to get me through another chilly northwestern week of winter.