Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Sojourner: The Road Becomes What You Leave

This is the final disc in the Magnolia Electric Company box set known as Sojourner. I've skipped the fourth disc, Shohola, (for now) because it's a collection of songs recorded by Jason Molina with just his guitar for accompaniment, making it a little less than a true Magnolia release. But I may still provide some thoughts on Shohola, after I've had a chance to listen to it a few more times. And of course I've already gone on at length about Nashville Moon, Black Ram, and Sun Session, the first three discs in the set.

The Road Becomes What You Leave is actually a short DVD film, rather than a CD (you really do get a little bit of everything in this box set!) The director is Todd Chandler, and all of the footage was shot in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba (MEC is from Indiana, by the way). I had been really looking forward to watching it, since behind-the-scenes, tour-based videos are often a lot of fun. This is a very odd example of that, though, for several reasons. First of all, it's only about twenty minutes long. I had no idea it was so short, and when the end credits started up, I honestly thought that we were just starting a new section of the movie! I imagine it's expensive even producing that short of a feature, but it still barely whet my appetite.

It also doesn't quite qualify as a concert video - at least of the type I'm used to - because while the band is shown performing a couple of times, more often than not the music on the soundtrack at that point is from a studio recording, rather than what they're playing on the stage! Since I love the music they chose to put on The Road Becomes What You Leave, I can't really complain that much... but I still would've preferred to have heard what the boys were cranking out! I suspect the technical challenges of capturing what was coming out of the band's speakers, and making it sound anything like it should once it was mixed into the video, may've influenced that creative choice.

By the same token, it's not a terribly effective behind-the-scenes look, because you get almost no dialogue from the band members! You do get a glimpse of what their lives on the road are like - it ain't pretty! - and one hilarious scene shows several of the guys performing at a karaoke club, which speaks volumes about their personalities (again, though, you don't get to actually hear them; but you can't help but laugh at their individual styles and mannerisms). Ironically, I'd say that Tim and I got significantly more of an impression of what Jason Molina, Peter Schreiner and Jason Groth are like from just a few minutes of conversation with them after the last concert in Toronto, than you do from watching this DVD. Even a little bit of them just talking into the camera, or answering some questions from a bodiless interviewer, would've leant more substance to the guys. But then again, I don't know what the director was going for.

Where The Road Becomes What You Leave Behind works is in its choice of music to accompany the images - each of which is not only a great MEC song but also perfectly suited to the visuals - and its warts and all approach to showing what a tour for a band like that really entails. If you want to know what MEC's roadies look like, for example, just glance at the picture at the top of this write-up! They bring in their own stuff, set it all up, pack it all up again afterwards, and lug it around in a beat-up van. Not exactly the glamourous life of a rock star! It actually had me thinking, at times, "I wonder if it'd be fun to volunteer to be a roadie for them for a month..." and then I realized I'd probably not even last a week!

In short, it's a fun little film that certainly doesn't overstay its welcome. The soundtrack is awesome, you get a good taste of life on the road, but you don't really get to know the band, or their live performances, much at all. Definitely a thrill for the big-time MEC fan like Your Humble Blogger, but not nearly as impressive - or as insightful - as I'd hoped it would be.

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