Mandolin Orange & Ryan Gustafson
Memorial Hall, Chapel Hill
Saturday, May 2, 2015
When Emily Frantz introduced “There Was A Time” Saturday night at UNC-Chapel Hill’s Memorial Hall, she called it an “old one.” The barbed, heartbreaking tune appears on 2013’s This Side of Jordan, Mandolin Orange’s most recent album before the new Such Jubilee.
But from the weary looks on the faces of the hard-touring Frantz and her partner Andrew Marlin, two years can be a long time on the road, wearing you down differently than merely sitting in an audience. The popular Carrboro pair took sometime to settle into home Saturday. Frantz surveyed the room and remarked that, as a UNC graduate, it was a dream to play the Carolina blue concert hall. And in front of their hometown crowd, no imperfection was tolerated. Marlin worked with the sound engineer to chase down a speaker hum that seemed inaudible to the rest of the room.
The audience worked to put them at ease. Rousing applause rewarded each song. Just a few numbers into the set, the crowd began to clap along. Frantz noted that it normally takes audiences much longer to join. Marlin’s shoulders relaxed. His face eased. His stage banter drifted into comfortable teasing of Frantz and family stories. Throughout the set, his mandolin solos became more vigorous, too. The audience roared during each one, compelling him to pick faster and harder.
To end the night, Mandolin Orange invited up members of the Big Fat Gap Band. They huddled around a single microphone and picked up the tempo with a pair of bluegrass tunes, “Cherokee Trail” and “Thin Ice.” Marlin even hinted at a few dance moves while he talked and laughed with his new stage mates. He and Frantz were no longer performing in their hometown; they were at home.
A solo performance from Ryan Gustafson, who seems to take more energy from traveling than settling down, opened the night. Gustafson’s new music centers around fingerpicked guitar and banjo, with some slide work to add color. It’s more intricate than the broader rock of his main band, The Dead Tongues. On The Dead Tongues’ Desert, Gustafson’s eager to search for answers. But Friday night, it sounded like he had found some. Named after a rail line running from Montana to the Pacific Northwest, “Empire Builder” used furious picking and tense chord progressions to paint a picture of the American West flying by. It sounds like Gustafson hitched a ride and found peace.
Mandolin Orange, “Daylight” & “Blue Ruin”
Mandolin Orange & Big Fat Gap, “Cherokee Trail” & “Thin Ice”