Get SF Weekly Newsletters

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Last Night: John Vanderslice and the Magik*Magik Orchestra at the Great American Music Hall

Posted By on Sat, Jan 31, 2009 at 9:43 AM

click to enlarge john_van_thumb_500x656.jpg
John Vanderslice and the Magik*Magik Orchestra
Friday, January 30, 2009
Great American Music Hall
Review By Melissa Baron

Better Than: Shows where artists use keyboards and samples artificially replicate the sound of real instruments (ie violins, horns).

As a budding young tuba player, I immersed myself in the richly diverse world of classical music. I played concertos, operas, symphonies, contemporary compositions, and scores. In high school, marching band introduced me to arrangements of pop songs for full bands. We played Michael Jackson, Fleetwood Mac, Tower of Power. As I grew up, I developed a taste for indie rock. I wanted to continue to play music without learning a new "rock" instrument like guitar, bass, or drums, but I wanted to play my music. I wanted to be the tuba queen of indie music. I wanted to rock out, huge horn and all. I assumed the two would never mix. Magik*Magik Orchestra proved me wrong.

San Francisco's Magik*Magik Orchestra played in a 30-piece configuration for their performance with local indie hero John Vanderslice. The show was a benefit for the Orchestra--they are the house orchestra for Tiny Telephone, Vanderslice's recording studio that celebrated its tenth year  with this performance. In those 10 years the studio has been used to record such artists as Death Cab for Cutie, Cex, Deerhoof, Nada Surf, Mates of State, the Mountain Goats, Mike Watt, John Doe, and Okkervil River.

Vanderslice, his drummer Matthias Bossi, and keyboardist Ian

Bjornstad  took the stage first to play a few songs. By the second song

they'd made their first mistake. A few seconds in, Vanderslice started laughing and stopped the band. He had messed up and explained it

would have been fine, only Bjornstad hadn't caught on to the mistake in

time to redeem the song. "This shit's gonna get pro real fast," laughed

Vanderslice. Once the orchestra came out, it sure did.


packed the stage. The drum kit sat in the middle, with Vanderslice and

Bjornstad pushed to the front. On the left sat a crowd of violins and

violas, on the right cellos and stand up basses, and in the back

vocalists and horns. All had chairs, stands and microphones, making for

a very cluttered stage.

The orchestral sound melted into

Vanderslice's beautiful voice. Each song sounded more full and

rich with the hollow accompaniment of the string bass, bold punch of the

trumpet, and the harmony between the lead vocals and the all-female

choir singing backup. The guitar fused with the warble of the violins

and violas. The cellos played fiercely, giving texture to each song.


the orchestra sounded great, improved execution would have drastically

changed the performance. Not all venues are acoustically suitable for an

orchestra without extensive planning, and not all instrumentations

provide the necessary balance of sounds. Many of the wind sounds were

lost. The shape of the french horn caused its sound to push straight up,

nearly missing the audience completely. The woodwinds were

unintelligible, the sound unable to penetrate the densely packed stage

in the first place. Flute and clarinet arrangements were lost in a jumble of

chairs, stands, and bodies even with microphones all over the stage. The

vocals, cello and bass almost overpowered the rest of the

orchestra.Despite the acoustic tragedy, the performance was thrilling

to watch and an innovative concept. Perhaps I can resurrect my

adolescent dreams of marrying my classical training to my indie rock

tendencies. Magik*Magik, you keep childhood band dreams alive.

Critic's Notebook

Personal bias: I think it's obvious. I'm a big ol'

band geek. My issues with acoustics and instrumentation come from years

of nerdy symphony and wind ensembles. Not everyone noticed, I'm sure.

Random detail: Vanderslice said this was the first time the band played the song "When It Hits My Blood" live.

By the way: Magik*Magik has a show with Tin Hat at the JCC on 2/19.

  • Pin It

Tags: , , , ,

About The Author

Melissa Baron


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Popular Stories

  1. Most Popular Stories
  2. Stories You Missed

Like us on Facebook


  • clipping at Brava Theater Sept. 11
    Sub Pop recording artists 'clipping.' brought their brand of noise-driven experimental hip hop to the closing night of 2016's San Francisco Electronic Music Fest this past Sunday. The packed Brava Theater hosted an initially seated crowd that ended the night jumping and dancing against the front of the stage. The trio performed a set focused on their recently released Sci-Fi Horror concept album, 'Splendor & Misery', then delved into their dancier and more aggressive back catalogue, and recent single 'Wriggle'. Opening performances included local experimental electronic duo 'Tujurikkuja' and computer music artist 'Madalyn Merkey.'"