Wolves, fiddles, and wildfires, oh my!
Mandolin Orange payed DC a visit on November 14th, and masterfully lavished upon those eagerly assembled at the Lincoln Theatre an excellent set of wistfully melancholy folk tunes.
Mandolin Orange is rich in folk and Americana influence and is comprised of Emily Frantz (vocals, violin aka fiddle and guitar) and Andrew Marlin (vocals, mandolin, guitar and banjo) from North Carolina. Four supporting band members joined them on stage and added to the folk mix a second fiddle, a double bass, another guitar, and drums. They are touring for their sixth album, Tides of a Teardrop, released early in 2019 (via Yep Roc Records). The brimful Lincoln Theatre was the second show of the tour.
They kicked off with an acoustic take of “Take This Heart of Gold”, with Emily on the fiddle and Andrew on the guitar, singing somber lyrics about looking for forgiveness to stay together. Next came “There Was a Time” with more sad lyrics about losing someone, this time Emily leading on vocals. In between the two songs, Emily set down her fiddle and took the guitar from Andrew, while Andrew picked up a mandolin (you knew one would appear).
They traded off vocal duties frequently, and with a range of string instruments at their disposal, they easily catered to the folk desires of the rapt audience. This was the second time I’ve seen them live, and each show has brought about a sense of inner-peace and contentment.
Next came a single from Tides, “The Wolves”, that started with a fiddle, and had long stretches where the vocals dissipated, allowing only the hauntingly beautiful notes of the instruments to envelop us. Andrew and Emily had made an appearance on NBC’s Today show to perform this song a couple days before, and Andrew confided, ‘It’s fun to play in a room like this. This is much easier than singing on TV.’
Aside from the packed auditorium, the aforementioned room included mist wafting around the stage, lights of reds and blues and oranges piercing through to give the backdrop an eerie glow. Often the back screen would tease us with swirling shapes, made ethereal by the haze.
Also from Tides, “Golden Embers” was written to Andrew’s father (after Andrew’s mother passed away) about grieving. Later, when they performed “Wake Me”, the band stepped away, leaving Emily and Andrew underneath the shimmering spotlight, slowing strumming.
They performed 17 songs in total, but only four from Tides. They also added two new songs not from the album, and a cover. They focused a good amount of energy (six songs) on their brilliant album from 2016, Blindfaller.
The two new songs came in the second half of the set. “Belly of the Beast” is about the beast in our lives where we must deal with its consequences (it can be whatever we want the beast to be, like hubris or easy living), and Andrew thought it relates well to living in DC. “Paper Mountain” has a similar theme, about the fictions we tell ourselves and things we ignore to get by, yet set to Emily and Andrew softly harmonizing the chorus.
After “Belly of the Beast”, one of the departed band members returned for each successive song, to which they joked, ‘the slowest build up in history.’ Josh on guitar came back first, and the three friends circled around the microphone for a rendition of still my favorite song by them, “Hey Stranger”.
“Buried in a Cape”, now with three of the four departed band members back in the fold, is a song Andrew wrote about a man (John Hartford) who was accidentally buried in his Batman cape. (Google it.)
They ended the main set with “Wildfire”, about the Civil War and how hate could have easily ended during that time, but yet still, to this day, spreads like wildfire.
They came back for two songs in the encore, “Echo” from Blindfaller, and a cover of Emmylou Harris’ redemption song, “Easy From Now On”. A good way to end a fine evening of beautifully arranged folk tunes.
If you’re not familiar with Mandolin Orange, treat yourself to a copy of Blindfaller. Then while you’re overplaying that entire album, snag a copy of Tides of a Teardrop too. They come through DC fairly often, they were at the 9:30 Club back in February and headlined the Appaloosa Music Festival in 2018 with everyone’s favorite Celtic band, Scythian.
I feel content.
Take This Heart of Gold
There Was a Time
Cold Lover’s Waltz
Like You Used To
Time We Made Time
Belly of the Beast
Buried in a Cape
Easy From Now On (Emmylou Harris cover)