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Monday, June 20, 2011

John Vanderslice and Magik*Magik Orchestra Spellbind at Herbst Theatre

Posted By on Mon, Jun 20, 2011 at 8:33 AM

John Vanderslice - JOHN VANDERSLICE
  • John Vanderslice
  • John Vanderslice
John Vanderslice with the Magik*Magik Orchestra 
June 17, 2011 
@ Herbst Theatre 

Better than: David Axlerod conducting David Hasselhoff.

It was my first time inside the historic Herbst Theatre, and the place is a mid-20th-century hoot. Indie rock horns into the damndest places these days, but it's still disconcerting to abruptly slam into giant paint-slathered likenesses of Eleanor Roosevelt and Harry Truman en route to a rock show. The UN Charter was signed here in 1945; the framed blotch features Harry, Eleanor, and sundry whey-faced hawkish types as principal directors and shareholders of the world body. Rocker kids capered happily among all the postwar bric-a-brac, lolling in the dinky seats where once global dignitaries sat, cheerfully waiting for the preshow talk at eight.

We clambered upstairs, wedged into the plush balcony seats, and listened to Charles Mingus piped over the P.A. as minutes wound down to the scheduled introduction. Composer John Vanderslice, Magik*Magik Orchestra leader Minna Choi, and Christian Cunningham of the Bay Bridged kicked around treats of recording from Vanderslice's latest album, White Wilderness. As he revealed in our interview last Tuesday, the indie rocker abandoned his usual methods for a bold plunge into the headwaters of collaboration, and he looked to be eager to show what the three were telling.

John Vanderslice - ROMANA MACHADO
  • Romana Machado
  • John Vanderslice

After a short intermission, Vanderslice and Choi filed back out and the Magik*Magik Orchestra members took up their places to perform Wilderness in its majestically arctic entirety. Thematically, the album is Vanderslice's jaw-dropping staredown of nihilism, but the cunning arrangements and hair-raising symphonic passages led us out of the personal context of the album into realms of pure sound and poetic invention. The blond frontman interrupted the set many times, padding the album's compressed-hallucination virtues with enough gosh-wow enthusing to completely disarm the assembled sophisticates and rock snobs. The kind of cheers and beery encouragement we've all heard rattle Thee Parkside and Slim's whooped through the Herbst's nonpareil acoustics. The headliner's high-pressure romp among strings and piccolos was now paying Powerball dividends. Vanderslice was plainly in ecstasy, enthusing, "I wish this could go on forever!"

Since he is due back in the studio before year's end with Choi and Magik*Magik for another round of rock symphonics, this lucky and protean fellow may well get his wish.

Overheard: John Vanderslice: "I want to hold the hands of all the Magik players and kiss their cheeks!"

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