The Gold Magnolias actually have a show. If you’ve ever been to sloppy songwriter nights in New York’s downtown listening rooms, or seen jam bands playing at Kenny’s Castaways, you know that what wears you out is all the what’re-we-gonna-play-next chatter between songs.
Not these guys. This is a show. In fact, they are what used to be called a show band–hot, funky tunes with some old-school R&B and funk, along with some stage shtick and showmanship.
And some fine songwriting. Some of the lyrics get lost in the excitement of their stage show, which is lively, energetic and wildly entertaining. Underneath all the entertainment, however, are some lyrics and song structures that are touching, funny, fun and very effective.
“Rolling Along” is a sad back look at better days in a relationship, while “The Dirty French Fry” is one of those dance-craze songs that used to sweep the country, back when we remembered that music could bring us together. This band brings the audience together, and as one New York club listener said, “They sound more like an old friend than a new band.”
Those old friends care if you have a good time. They care if you feel like staying and aren’t just trying to get your money’s worth for the cover charge. They ask you to “Get Sweaty” with them on one song. In other words, remind yourself that music is about being human and feeling a pulse rather than just a beat.
These guys are touring clubs and selling CDs one at a time, but they will be somebody’s opening act soon. As soon as somebody remembers that people run computers and not vice versa. Computerized music is like digital special effects in the movies these days. We have gone from imagining the possibilities to settling for mathematical probabilities. Gold Magnolias explore the human fallibilities. In other words, the beating, the feet dancing and the head nodding.
They have not reinvented funk, rock and R&B, but they have reclaimed it. They laugh a lot and hurt a little and dance for no reason at all. The saxophone player bends notes part of the way, not all the way. The guitarist and keyboardist switch instruments and take turns at vocals. The bass player makes sure all the musical adventures have a solid foundation. They are looking for it—the way to keep it human and keep it moving and keep you guessing.
It is said that Lady Gaga studies pop music, the history of it, the way it works and how to be famous doing it. You get the feeling these guys are studying cheap hotel-room ceilings after a long day’s travel cramped in a bus. Maybe they should open for Gaga, just to remind the audience that music used to be about being real, longing, and hoping and aching, instead of running all our emotions through a processor to sanitize them. Dare we hope they could become the headliner halfway through the Gaga tour, the same way Jimi Hendrix first opened for the Monkees and became headliner during the tour. You get the feeling if you cut Gaga, data will leak out.
Cut these guys and they bleed. Cut in line to see them.