Sera Cahoone, the Moondoggies, Magic Mountain – Tractor Tavern – Seattle, WA – Jan. 16, 2010
Seattle is a land of collaboration. Drop into any of the bars and clubs lining Ballard Avenue, on any given night, and you’re likely to see some bearded, flannel-shirted dudes sitting in with someone else’s band. Members of the Moondoggies and Maldives are the most frequent cross-pollinators, the former known for sitting in behind nouveau folk duo Arthur & Yu on occasion.
This particular night, Arthur & Yu’s male half – a be-flanneled Grant Olsen – enlisted the Moondoggies as the backup band, live-show debut for his solo project, Magic Mountain. The project is aptly named. Pulling together dreamy, effects-laden sounds with various elements of Americana, Olsen’s songwriting takes its time building both lyrical and sonic landscapes. The project has plenty of room to grow, granted, but, for a first show ever, it set a solid bar.
This was followed by a brief string of sad solo acoustic tunes from Moondoggie Kevin Murphy. Murphy’s solo work, in all its introspective thoughtfulness, bears a remarkable contrast to the music he makes with his band. After welcoming the full group to the stage, Murphy and company delved into a 40-minute set of imaginative, upbeat roots rock. This is a band driven by bouncy Elton John-ish piano lines and well-architectured, tight harmonies. The room was all abounce, elbows swinging, beer no doubt spilled on strangers. Indeed, there’s a love affair going on between this town and that band, and only the newcomers managed to avoid singing along to “Changing” – their “hit,” if you can call it that.
This was the Tractor’s second of two shows in as many days spotlighting the double bill of the Moondoggies and Sera Cahoone. The first night had the Moondoggies headlining. (I was in the adjacent neighborhood watching Zoe Muth & the Lost High Rollers and the Maldives play their hearts out in honor of local music bloggers Sound on the Sound‘s birthday, so I can’t comment on the first night.) Night two, however, saw Cahoone at the helm.
In addition to choice selections from both her SubPop releases – 2006’s self-titled disc and ’08’s Only as the Day Is Long – she played a cover of Merle Haggard’s “Drink up and Be Somebody,” and teased the crowd with a couple of notably excellent new tunes (no clue when a new album is coming, before you ask).
It’s been since Bumbershoot (Labor Day weekend) that Cahoone played a local show, partly because she’s been spending some quality time on the road opening for Son Volt – her band stripped, for those occasions, down to the duo of herself and pedal steel player J Kardong. As an incidental sidenote, later this month, she’ll play three solo dates opening for Jay Farrar and Ben Gibbard in Colorado, Wisconsin, and Minnesota.
But, on this night at the Tractor, she proved she can disappear from hometown stages for months on end if she wants. Local crowds have respectable long-term memories, and packed the venue two nights in a row for a rare local set from Cahoone. Also evident was how well her songs age, when given adequate time and space. (“Couch Song” – from her self-titled debut – still has one of the best lines about the complexities of love that I know of: “If we don’t talk, I won’t mind / it’s the only way to get along sometimes.”) The crowd seem pleased, the bands delivered solidly…it was an excellent end to a night of music that shone light on some of the finest artists defining Seattle music these days. And, since this was an ND-sponsored bill, it seems fair enough to close here with this story about Sera Cahoone from the No Depression archives and this video for “Baker Lake” (from Only as the Day Is Long), which we premiered here on this site last summer: