Magic Trick, Cairo Gang, Blast Beats | Empty Bottle | Rock, Pop, Etc | Chicago Reader
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Magic Trick, Cairo Gang, Blast Beats 

When: Thu., Jan. 17, 9:30 p.m. 2013
Price: $8
These days far too many new bands seem hell-bent on ripping off Thee Oh Sees (and John Dwyer’s Cyndi Lauper-esque “whoo!”), and far too many music writers throw around the words “garage,” “indie,” and “psychedelic” until you’re sure they have no clue what they mean—so it’s beyond refreshing to hear Magic Trick, which stands miles above all the derivative reverb-tards dabbling in neopsychedelia. Originally a home-recording project of Fresh & Onlys front man Tim Cohen, Magic Trick has evolved over three albums into a full-fledged band that defies simplistic categorization, finding a tricky middle ground between the intimacy of solo home recordings and the jostling talents of “outside” collaborators—who in this case include members of the Aislers Set and Kelley Stoltz’s backing group. On their latest album, Ruler of the Night (Hardly Art), Magic Trick compile a brooding, multifarious medley of moods and instrumentation in the vein of folk-pop masters the Dutchess & the Duke and Sonny & the Sunsets—and it’s the details, such as the plaintive vocal harmonies of “Sunny” and the ratchet-driven melancholic shuffle of “Angel Dust,” that make the band such a fine addition to the prolific Bay Area scene. —Brian Costello

As a key foil to Will Oldham (aka Bonnie “Prince” Billy) over the past six years, guitarist Emmett Kelly has established his good taste, musical empathy, and quiet technical brilliance beyond any reasonable doubt. On Oldham’s terrific 2010 album, The Wonder Show of the World (Drag City), Kelly was billed as an equal partner under the name the Cairo Gang; Oldham handled the singing and exerted his usual influence on the production aesthetic, but Kelly wrote all the music. When the Cairo Gang made its proper debut with a self-titled album for Narnack almost seven years ago, demonstrating Kelly’s potential as a bandleader, he’d already played behind the likes of Azita Youssefi, Edith Frost, and Beth Orton, but he was still hesitant on center stage—and his recent follow-up, The Corner Man (Empty Cellar), proves how much room he still had to grow. With delicate but sturdy folk-rock that emphasizes Kelly’s strong singing rather than his virtuosic guitar playing (he’s clearly absorbed some lessons in precise vocal modulation from Oldham), it’s one of the best albums of 2012. A handful of regular collaborators—including guitarists Sam Wagster and Leroy Bach and keyboardist Ben Boye—help out here and there, but Kelly plays just about everything. The opening track, “Everybody Knows,” is a breathtaking ballad with gorgeous overdubbed harmonies, woozy pedal steel, and a wounded, vulnerable melody; flinty psychedelic rocker “Put on a Smile” wheezes, rages, and backs down, sounding almost defeated, the music matching its frustrated, tough-luck lyrics perfectly. Kelly’s songs veer between the visceral incantations of Neil Young and the airy mysticism of British folk, but he reshapes both to fit his own strengths. —Peter Margasak Magic Trick headlines; the Cairo Gang and Blast Beats open.


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