We have no qualms about proclaiming music as a form of escape here at the Crazy Horse. Life can be tough and often the best medicine is to immerse one’s self in a live performance. The more engaging the music is, the more likely we are to leave all our worries behind and embrace the joy of the moment. Magic in the Other colors on both sides of the line in that regard.
They clearly are a vehicle for departure from reality, yet a couple of their songs don’t shy away from examining the struggles society is confronting these days. Who knows if people really absorb lyrics in a live setting, but if they do, it’s refreshing to see a band that isn’t afraid to wear its heart on its sleeve.
When I first heard Magic in the Other a year ago, I didn’t even think vocals were a part of their mix. This trio from the Bay Area is comprised of three guys who are committed to playing their instruments at the highest level. The mastermind behind the group is Ezra Lipp. A drummer who has gained acclaim as a frequent member of Phil Lesh and Friends. Much to my surprise, it turns out that he is a fantastic singer as well. His role as lead vocalist in this band is an essential component of MITO’s unique charm. His voice has this endearing vulnerability which makes every word resonate with truth. Everyone is always amazed with singing drummers and this one definitely deserves a lot of praise.
Bassist and vocalist Steve Adams is known as a founding member of ALO – a funky rock band that has earned a solid fanbase. He also entered the national spotlight playing with Nicki Bluhm and The Gramblers and starred in several viral YouTube videos. He’s always had this silky smooth, bouncy groove. With Magic in the Other, the music has sparked him into a creative renaissance. The songs call for a much more nuanced jazz sensibility than we’ve heard from him in the past. His melodic excursions present more opportunities to walk on the dark side of the street. After watching him play for the past 17+ years, this transformation is something of a revelation.
The wild card of the bunch is guitarist Roger Riedlbauer. Those versed in the underground Bay Area music scene have been watching him play with a wide spectrum of bands for many years. After seeing several video clips, I expected him to be this moody jazz savant. I was happy to see him transmitting a jubilant vibe throughout the show. Certainly this had a lot to do with feeding off of the high energy Crazy Horse crowd. He has carved out his own distinct style which is built upon tonal ingenuity and a more percussive approach than most guitarists. At times I wondered where the keyboard was coming from. While Roger’s technical abilities are off the charts, they are surpassed by the way he effortlessly infuses every note with warmth and vivacity. One has to relish the seamless dexterity of psychedelic, jazzy jamband guy mingling with concise indie rocker.
This tour was a celebration of the release of Magic in the Other’s debut album – What We Know is Possible. Considering that they have only been a band for a little over a year, everything about their music and overall operation is conducted with the seriousness of a group that plans on being around for a long time. They wear suits onstage at every show, establishing a striking and appropriate image. They opened with the album’s catchiest song, “How is This All Ending?” I would have preferred they build up to it, but it was effective in turning heads out of the gates. They soon made their way to the instrumental jazz fusion movement – “East of Change.” Even for the casual observer, it’s obvious to recognize that this is a band in a perpetual state of musical conversation. It was as if an imaginary bubble shielded them from the outside world. All that mattered was listening intently to each other while crafting a water color of rolling soundscapes.
Considering most of the audience was completely unfamiliar with them, MITO did a great job of ingratiating themselves with an array of well-chosen covers. For me personally, they couldn’t have played anything headier than David Bowie’s “Starman” with a savage foray through the Grateful Dead’s “Stronger than Dirt” in the middle. Ezra’s voice suited the Bowie tune perfectly and the Dead jam was a tasteful nod to all the time he spends playing that band’s music. I was told they did a Smashing Pumpkins song as well, but working the front door doesn’t always allow me to pay as much attention as I’d like.
Just about any modern band is a product of a cornucopia of influences. MITO comes across as a trio of guys who have spent more than their share of time inhaling vast vinyl archives. Their song list moved through a wide array of genres while maintaining a common thread which made them all seem like parts of the same story. They elevated the Crazy Horse to the feel of a club rather than a bar with their cerebral jazz fusion and unabashed indie-rock. There were subtle elements of prog thrown in there, reflective of Roger’s King Crimson fanhood. Later in the show they made the natural progression into the realm of funk which was expectedly well received by the audience. Ezra even left the kit to accentuate the mood with his emphatic moves on the dance floor.
There’s so many great drummers out there but it’s rare that they stand out to this degree. Every torrent of beats leapt off the skins in technicolor cascades. I’m not savvy enough to describe from a technical point of view why I consider Ezra Lipp one of the best drummers in the country. I can tell you that whatever code he’s cracked sends me spiraling down organic corridors of intrigue. Maybe he’s such a thoughtful, introspective person off stage that his hunger to connect is manifest in this profound rhythmic dialect. Philosophy aside, whatever he’s doing creates a complex foundation empowering his bandmates to shine to their fullest potential.
Closing out the night with the album’s cathartic anthem – “Light in My Window” – a dozen late arrivals gravitated to the stage. As the band sang, “If it’s love that you are and you know that you are, leave a light in my window,” people swayed and couples held each other with long gazes. In that moment, Magic in the Other’s visions for the future were crystal clear.
Encapsulating Tyler Blue
If you have walked through the door during a show at the Crazy Horse over the last five years, you've probably been greeted by Tyler Blue. When we are truly moved by music, the feelings are hard to describe. Tyler's words crystallize emotions and illuminate reflections while bringing the spirit of a show back to life.