Mandolin Orange (Show Review): An Enthralling, Memorable Experience

The Mandolin Orange show. Where do I even begin?…

Well I was unconsciously shedding tears into my beer after the second song so…

There’s that.

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Not going to lie, I had high expectations for their set and I usually reserve such expectations for bands I’ve already seen live, but Mandolin Orange captivated me within the first couple seconds of them taking the stage and kept me locked in a state of perpetual bliss till I woke up the next morning. It was incredible.

After finding out they would have a full band (mind you this was my first MO show), I was pleasantly surprised that Andrew Marlin and Emily Frantz started the show as a duo for the first two songs. Individually, their voices are so pure and sound exactly like they do on record, but together it’s almost surreal in a way. Marlin’s lower register blending with Frantz’s higher tone; It really is like their voices were made for each other. It’s pretty crazy to think that the two met at a casual bluegrass jam session.

While Marlin and Frantz could’ve performed as a duo for the rest of the night, I really did enjoy the full-band aspect of their live show. The inclusion of bass, drums (Kyle Keegan), and electric guitar (Josh Oliver) radiated a familiar, yet fresh vibe to the music which made things all the more interesting and dynamic. It seemed like they were changing out instruments every other song and made it so you really weren’t sure what to expect next. One moment, Frantz was plucking away at a guitar then turning everyone into emotional wrecks with the fiddle, while Marlin switched from mandolin to banjo which received an outburst of electrified approval from the crowd. “It’s just a banjo,” responds Marlin.

One of my favorite moments, in correlation to the dynamic progression of their set, consisted of the full band formed in a semi-circle around one encompassing microphone with a guest feature from Ryan Gustafson (The Dead Tongues) who sang and played the banjo. There’s nothing more fun than watching a blue grass jam session and that’s exactly what took place. One enthralling force of sound, the group alternated between who would take the lead as they, one-by-one, took a step forward to bring their instrument closer to the mic and solo away. Fiddle to mandolin to guitar to banjo, it was a wild display of instrumentation that left me awe-struck as the band concluded in synchronized fashion.

As expected, the band came back out to a roaring encore and concluded by letting touring guitarist, Josh Oliver, sing a song which (not surprisingly) was well done. Oliver has his own unique voice to be heard and I appreciated Frantz and Marlin’s willingness to let their good friend and talented musician close out their set.

Overall, it was truly a show of mixed feelings and emotions. All good feelings but mixed nonetheless. At different times during the show, I had thought to myself everything from, “That was beautiful” to “that was fun” to “sweet chili bean that was f—ing crazy what even is life.” Mandolin Orange deserved to play for the sold-out crowd they received and I can’t wait for them to come back. Do yourself a favor and catch them the next time they come through RVA. You won’t regret the memorable experience you’ll get out of it.

Cole Pearson