Madison Cunningham and Juana Molina's Ardmore Music Hall show was cleansing, cathartic, and incredibly engaging - WXPN | Vinyl At Heart

Madison Cunningham and Juana Molina put on a masterclass in musicianship at Ardmore Music Hall this week.

They took to the stage together, and did almost a 20-minute long improv song. The two played off each other like old friends, as if we were sitting in on a practice session.

The show was a little different than most. After the first song, Molina was alone for a few songs. Then it was Cunningham’s turn. Then, a brief intermission, and when they came back out, they played each other’s songs together until the two ended the two and a half-hour show by improving again together, with audience participation.

Molina’s setup was impressive. She sang, played guitar and keys, and had a synth setup that was comparable to one LCD Soundsystem might have on a light day. And she looped it all together to make the most haunting dream pop music.

Juana Molina and Madison Cunningham | photo by Danielle Ciampaglia for WXPN

Her standout song was in her second set. “Dar (Qué Difícil)” is a track led by its bass line and rhythmic looped vocals. It was paired with neon green lights that gave the room a hypnotic, entrancing club feel that could make someone almost lose track of time.

Molina and Cunningham are similar in plenty of ways. Cunningham said her touring mate has always been a huge inspiration to her. In fact, she says she heard Molina before she heard The Beatles. But on stage, Cunningham’s sets were a little more grounded.

Natural lighting, just her guitars and her pedal board. Seeing her solo after watching her open up for Hozier with a full band felt incredibly special. Cunningham is hands down one of the most talented guitarists of our generation, and a solo set is really where she shines.

She played a number of tracks from a number of her releases. Among them was a personal favorite, “Broken Harvest,” a 2021 single.

Juana Molina and Madison Cunningham | photo by Danielle Ciampaglia for WXPN

However, her best moments were during “Life According to Raechel.” The song, about losing her grandmother, is so painfully tender and grief-stricken. The crowd was mesmerized, some (me) openly weeping. Then suddenly, during a quiet moment, someone’s bar chair made a little farting noise. Cunningham, and the rest of us, had a much needed laugh, and were reminded that things can be light-hearted even in times of grief.

At the end of the show, both artists teamed up again for another 20-some minute round of improv, this time with the crowd’s help. Like at an improv show, Molina asked the crowd for a few suggestions. With the words “blue,” “door,” and “sugar,” the two manufactured a song about waiting all night for a bus that never came.

Watching two musicians who clearly admire each other also be friends on stage is refreshing, and watching them do it for nearly two and a half hours is impressive. This show felt cleansing and cathartic, but more than anything was a lot of fun.

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