Magic In The Other is a recently formed trio with members out of the North Bay Area and Oakland, CA. Formed by one of the finest drummers in the north part of the state, Ezra Lipp (Phil Lesh and Friends and God knows how many other projects) has put together a band that plays music that progressively harkens back to late 90s and early 2000’s Bay Area improvisational rock ‘n’ roll. But it would be hard for one to just nail their sound to that. A better descriptor might be an “Avant- rock” approach as heavy jazz influence softens the snarl of rock and an intermittent New Orleans funk shuffle takes the listeners through spirited arrangements of original songs and one or two choice covers. It is easy to hear a vast soundscape of influences and that well runs deep.
Joining Ezra to build an enviable rhythm section is bassist Steve Adams (ALO, Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers, Big Light) and together they lock in to create a canvas that guitarist Roger Riedlbauer (Mercury Falls) can paint all over with bright and ringing guitar leads. MITO’s Santa Cruz debut on October 21st was a support slot for San Francisco’s son Sean Hayes. They ran through a set that almost immediately engaged the waiting crowd. Within minutes of the opening notes, people were drawn away from the bar and their conversations and into to Lipp’s syncopated rhythms, Adams’ bouncing bass and Riedlbauer’s twisting and turning leads. Beers went flat as bodies began to boogie. These guys are pro players stoked on a project that pushes them as musicians and it shows. Smiles and laughter are inherent to the music as Lipp, Adams and Riedlbauer surprise the audience and even themselves in the moment. This band is an intelligent music listener’s dream. The music is danceable but also worthy of focus to see their communication in real time. One member of the crowd was heard to astutely and succinctly put it with: “These guys fuckin’ rage.” He was right. It is something special to bear witness to the birth of a band that could potentially take a scene by storm, you feel like you’re in on something – witness to something great. That is how the crowd felt at Moe’s that warm October night and that doesn’t happen very often.
So, what is it that made this Santa Cruz performance so great? The songs. The songs are composed but the musicians have space to breathe and weave, there is time for the players to plot their moves and hammer home crescendos that leave the audience surprised, beaming and applauding. The sound is loose but curated, it swings but it steps measuredly ahead. One can see how this band, unbeknownst to them, builds on the work of Steve Kimock who, in this writer’s opinion was creating a uniquely Bay Area improvisational sound when KVHW called it quits back in the late nineties. That was a short but golden period in San Francisco’s music history and it is nice to hear this sound come back in the hands of musicians so capable of carrying it forward. This band is different however because all is new, the band and the songs crackle with freshness and invention.
And, no, MITO is most decidedly NOT a Grateful Dead cover band. No way (and it is so gratifying to say that). While Ezra has played in many of the bands that satellite Phil Lesh’s Terrapin Crossroads and even plays drums for Phil’s band, you will not hear a Grateful Dead song at a MITO show. Their song “Pelicans” had just a touch of “That’s It for The Other One” flavor and why not? Touches and tastes are good but with so many bands out there covering those pioneers of the jam scene it’s nice to hear something different, something entirely fresh and exciting. The songs that made up the set that night was wholly original except for when, about mid-set, they dropped in a slow and slinky, more blues than rock, version of the Beatle’s “Helter Skelter”.
This band is worth your ears and they have residency dates at The Ivy Room in Albany, California in November and December. These shows, in which the band has hand selected their support acts, are special and highly recommended – collaboration will most certainly ensue. MITO will be entering the studio in December as well and will have a Kickstarter campaign beginning soon. Support it. Support something beautiful and positive in this world as we face so many struggles. Once more, that night provided those in the audience with the reminder that music can, at least for a moment, make us whole and give us hope in the ashes of concern. Music can make us better and more loving. And this was music that was truly attempting to heal what is broken through the empathy and love of the musicians on the stage. It’s good to see all of that in the flesh, good to see that is not just hippie idealism in words on a page, because it was there – right in front of us.