The Mendoza Line - The Borderline, London
"Hey, who wants a button?" yells Shannon McArdle, offering round a bag of Mendoza Line badges with a smile to melt snow. As charm offensives go, this Athens-born/NY-based quintet pulls out all the stops. On-stage banter flows. Guitarist Tim Bracy drawls eccentric but engaging blabber in a delicious Georgia drawl. And with a ramshackle edge to their rolling country-indie, they give the inviting proposition that, hey, we could be playing on stage too.
Whether anyone could just plug in and replicate The Mendoza Line's yearning magic, though, is doubtful. Last year's Lost In Revelry cranked up their dazzling qualities by the yard. At turns sunny and good-natured, at others red raw, embittered and heartbroken, the band navigate a rich sound—densely knotted guitars, lap-steels and pianos—matched only by the richness of experience. As "Something Dark" and "My Tattered Heart And Torn Parts" demonstrate, clearly this is a band who've lived and lost a lot.
Nevertheless, as the exquisitely lyrical "What Ever Happened To You?" shows, they don't go for brooding angst either. Instead, intelligence and wisdom is their compass after emotional storms wreak havoc. A similar level-headed calm informs their back-porch country, too. The gently lilting "A Damn Good Disguise", played tonight with absolute perfection, is hammock-swaying languor incarnate. Elsewhere, "The Queen of England" hits a mournful juncture somewhere between Dylan and Mark Eitzel. While the astonishing "The Triple Bill Of Shame" weaves a scathing tale of thwarted ambition around Tim's slack-jaw delivery and slow-crawling lap-steels.
At the other end of the scale, though, The Mendoza Line crash and clatter like a keening anorak indie band. The breathless rush of "In Your Hands" and "Mistakes Were Made", all fuzzy rushes and one-string guitar solos, bizarrely recall sub-C-86 obscurities The Flatmates. This is no bad thing. Balancing the glum with the glad ensures nobody settles too comfortably in their hazy Americana glow. And besides, The Mendoza Line's exuberant stage presence kind of warrants ramalama guitar blasts. Set closer "It'll Be The Same Without You" nails down stomping pop perfection to the max.
Wear the badge with pride.