Being a young 20-something who’s moderately online, when I first saw Magdalena Bay’s work, I was pretty taken aback.
“These youngsters are, like, deeply online,” I thought.
From their TikTok page to their under two-minute music videos (laden with Y2K-AOL aesthetic charm), I saw a duo flourishing concurrently — first and foremost in their music, but also in their digital-age, multi-media brand packaging.
I was decidedly curious as to how a band that’s deeply embedded in the digital ether would translate live on February 19 at the Black Cat. But in all honesty, I never doubted for a second they’d be spectacular, for potentially unfortunate reasons. One of the first things I heard about Magdalena Bay is the lead singer Mica Tenenbaum and producer Matthew Lewin originally were making music as a prog-rock outfit (named “Tabula Rasa,” for that matter). My mind, at points only capable of making lazy associations, preemptively decided they were going to blow the roof off the Black Cat for that reason — and I was right.
Their debut album “Mercurial World” came out in October of last year and last Saturday they played it front-to-back. Maybe this is just my jarring lack of concert (and life) experience, but it was the first time I’d heard a show dedicate itself to a singular body of work. And it worked to their advantage — the legwork they’d put into the worldbuilding beforehand (through the album itself, the music videos, outfits, etc.) made for an incredibly cohesive, unpredictably-predictable experience.
The show kicked off with a thundering performance of “Mercurial World,” followed by live instrumentation catapulting a ridiculously smooth transition between “Dawning of the Season” and “Secrets (Your Fire)” — a moment so perfect, so great, that for a split second I wished I had a pair of those dystopian Google Glasses to automatically record my every unanticipated life-changing moment.
What I’m saying is: Lightning was released from the bottle, and I wish I’d hit record.
For an album that is, in my opinion, pretty frontloaded (the run of “Mercurial World” to “Chaeri” is, in layman’s terms, simply ridiculous), Magdalena Bay never turned the energy down throughout the show. They steamrolled through every song with blistering fire and flair, barely even taking a moment to chat in between tracks. Before I knew it, without missing a beat (and seemingly without taking a breath), Magdalena Bay was grooving through their album’s closer, aptly named “The Beginning,” and they were done.
In the spirit of wasting essentially no time nor energy, Magdalena Bay demanded their own encore. Throughout the show, Tenenbaum and Lewin had been interacting with an AI trapped in the screen behind them named Chaeri. When they exited the stage, Chaeri reappeared and in PSA-chic, stated: “If you want an encore, please clap now.”
Never before has asking folks to clap ever been cool (à la Jeb Bush) — until now.
A raucous performance of the slow-burn bass-bouncer “Killshot” prefaced a very-early-aughts rendition of “Only If You Want It,” before “Good Intentions” brought the show to a buoyant conclusion — serving as a reminder that Magdalena Bay’s world outside of the mercurial one is a real treasure trove.
Just a few days before the show, Magdalena Bay announced they’d be opening for Charli XCX for a handful of shows on her upcoming tour. Fans and followers should assert this is only the beginning for Magdalena Bay and their performance at the Black Cat will someday be something to tell the grandkids about.
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