Magic In The Other & Tommy Guerrero Conjure Positive Energy In Santa Cruz: Review
Positive energy is not easily conjured. It can’t be manifested consciously. It grows organically, subtly and slowly or it doesn’t happen. By mid-evening last Saturday, July 20, at Moe’s Alley in a sleepy Santa Cruz corner, the simpatico pairing of Tommy Guerrero and Magic In The Other manifested a decidedly cool scene, making a diverse mix of skaters, college kids, surfer dads and the usual funky cross-section of Monterey Bay locals sway and smile to music that skipped joyfully across genres and moods. Put another way, there was something in the air that lifted and excited one’s spirit and animated one’s bones.
As They Might Be Giants is the sunshine counterpart to Ween, Magic In The Other is the bright side flip to The Slip, a trio actively seeking enlightenment and passion for whatever life throws at us. Bold stuff but Ezra Lipp (drums, vocals), Steve Adams (bass, vocals) and Roger Riedlbauer (guitar, vocals) intertwine with such obvious delight and get across their unique thing with such abundant charm and offhanded skill that the gathering dancers only realize they’ve been simmering in a philosophical hot tub after they’re toasty & copacetic.
MITO is a limber rock combo with jazz legs, capable of pointed power pop one minute and angular, complex explorations redolent of Bill Frisell and Return To Forever the next. Yet, all of it feels of a piece, the trio’s character infusing and tying together elements that might be jumbled and clunky in lesser hands.
This is how they can move seamlessly between opener “East of Change I > Not Afraid,” a jazzy ride on a sleek, fast moving beast cutting through terrain with grace, into an intense cover of Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun.” Later, they led the crowd in a strangely life-affirming chant of “We all die young!” over an African High Life sprinkled groove that’d make King Sunny Ade shuffle. New song “Put A Smile In Your Mind” lit up the crowd in a way reminiscent of Cali good time faves ALO, where Adams & Lipp lay down the low end.
“I know it may sound like New Age snake oil. It might sound crazy. I forgot the lyrics but just put a smile in your mind,” riffed bandleader Lipp.
The set highlight may have been “Light In My Window,” a standout from their winning grower of a debut album, 2018’s What We Know Is Possible, played for Adams’ mom in attendance side stage. “Light” glides a bit like modern era Rush, yearning and earnest in ways that redeem those traits in a cynical age, slashing at negativity and offering affirmations. This tune and this night’s impressive delivery neatly encapsulate the promise and harnessed power of MITO, a harbinger of great things for the common good coming soon.
Above all else, Tommy Guerrero’s music possesses a super sweet vibe, a gliding cool that’s heady whether you’re high or not. It’s that kundalini loosening thang one finds in Sly Stone, Augustus Pablo and early Funkadelic. In ways, Guerrero’s catalog and wicked guitar slingin’ suggest what a less troubled Shuggie Otis might have evolved into, a sound simultaneously earthy and cosmic, toes in the dirt but eyes full of stars as waves crash and roil in the distance.
Wearing a baseball cap with the word “DUB” in large letters, Guerrero exuded the lanky, confident yet easygoing energy of his storied pro skater past. The whole band oozed a casualness that belied their tight, super sharp playing, a gang of heavy hitters in street clothes that included special guest keyboardist the mighty Money Mark (Beastie Boys, Banyan, Omar Rodriguez-Lopez).
The aforementioned vibe is a stone soup of surf and experimental rock, intuitive reggae inflections, punk and math rock seasoning, hip hop undertones, a splash of Factory Records guitar shimmer (Durutti Column a clear ancestor) and tasty Hendrix echoes stirred with a steady, unforced hand. While almost entirely instrumental, there’s not a lot of soloing so much as instruments momentarily taking the lead in a sinewy, seductive melange.
And move people did, slowly simmered in Guerrero’s soup, bobbing and bubbling happily as music without fixed genre but possessed of an identifiable shared DNA permeated Moe’s newfangled roadhouse on a clear, warm Saturday night.
Afterwards, I was struck by how much a lot more people might really like MITO and Guerrero, both their studio work and the energy they put out live, if exposed to them. While a great deal of music is specific to a given audience, these bands offer a lot to a diverse range of listeners, not the least a feel good buzz after a few hours in their company.
Magic In The Other Setlist
Set: East of Change I > Not Afraid, Black Hole Sun, Presence of Mind, How is This all Ending?, Put A Smile in Your Mind, Sure of Your Soul, Light In My Window, Cheek