On free nights I’m going to do something that I wish more people would do. See music in Chicago (and everywhere in the world). Bands I know, bands I don’t, I’m going to step out of my house a few nights a week, see music, and then write about it. Not just headliners, not just the band I’m going to see, but all bands on the bill for a night. A big pet peeve of mine in this town is that so few people come for opening bands, or bands other than those that their friends are in. I aim to review all bands on the bill for the night while writing these reviews.
Last night I set out to see a band I knew nothing about until a mass email from Martyrs appeared in my inbox (sometimes those email lists are good things!). Banda Magda had a name that caught my ear, and a few youtube videos later, I knew where I was headed on a Thursday night.
I arrived at the venue to catch the opening band, Rusty Gates, a blues/rock/jam/funk quintet from Chicago. This is a band with no shortage of talent, from the chunky keys, a deep pocket, and tasteful guitar solos there is a solid foundation to groove. Rusty Gates thrives on the intellectual side of their music, playing in odd meters (everyone loves a 4/4 to 5/4 transition), and with interesting chord changes.
When Rusty Gates started the set I was skeptical that it was going to be anything more than a typical college jam band. Sure, these guys know some more complex chord progressions, but they didn’t sell me on being a band worth watching or listening to for more than a song. Bland blues were the first words I wrote in my notes, however, as the set progressed (aside from their singing, of which I was not a fan) the instrumentals gained steam, and the band settled down from early rhythmic hiccups. Overall, great intricate harmonized guitar lines, solos that were complicated but not over the heads of the audience, and stage energy that was lacking (seriously guys, give me some personality!) lead to a good opening performance. Give them a chance if you see them on a bill.
The vehicle of Magda Giannikou, Banda Magda uses various world music styles (largely Brazilian and other latin influences at this concert) and languages to infuse an infectious groove of life into the audience. In contrast to Rusty Gates, the presence of personality with Banda Magda drew eyes to the stage. Although Magda herself sat on a stool playing accordion for most of the performance, there was no lack of energy.
It’s a rare thing to attend a concert where the frontman/woman can talk, tell stories, and have the attention of most of the audience. Most songs were preceded with anecdotes and stories about how the songs were written. The pure musicianship of everyone on stage made the band click like a seasoned touring band that you could see playing the bigger festival stages soon. Each musician was highlighted, able to show their virtuosity, which complimented Magda, showing a band, and not a personality.
Rhythmic complexity, Brazilian influenced chord changes, and not a single song sung in English kept people swaying. At one point each member in the band held up a Spanish word or phrase on a sheet of paper to encourage audience participation and a singalong. I believe what made this such a successful show for Banda Magda was the involvement of the crowd in almost every song. Whether clapping along (dividing the audience to produce more complicated polyrhythms), or singing in a different language, it seemed like everyone in the room was hanging on every note.
Whether you’re a wold music fan or not, this band should be on your short list of must see when they come to your town. An affiliation with Snarky Puppy means they have a supply of amazing musicians to do amazing things. However, this music stands on it’s own, and is something truly unique, different, and great. It’s impossible to see this band without wanting to smile and dance.