What do you do when two of the four bands you’re going to see don’t show? There’s nothing for it; you have to get drunk and bullshit with the soundman.
The show was to be four bands: two openers followed by Magnapop, now on tour after a nine-year hiatus, and in the prime hour Rockbot, a Richmond-based dance punk band. I guess it wasn’t meant to be. The first opener, the Ike Reilly Band, was booted from the venue and, unbeknownst to anyone, Rockbot cancelled.
The Velvet Lounge is the type of venue that keeps the faint of heart feeling at home. The stage is small and the floor itself isn’t much larger. The bartender is his own bar-back and has to answer the phones. The door is manned by one person who casually collects money while also perusing the local paper. In short it is the type of venue that is crucial to local music and small-time passers through. The club has no crowd of its own and in any given week may host every audience demographic imaginable, from the City’s indie youth to thirty-somethings looking to rekindle the past or avoid a dinner party.
Tonight’s show was the latter. Magnapop struck gold in the mid ‘90s when, after being discovered by REM’s Michael Stipe, their breakthrough album, Hot Boxing was produced by Bob Mould. They had a brief run, but failed to capitalize on Hot Boxing‘s success and fell back into relative obscurity. Now they have quietly reemerged with a fantastic new album and a tour to match.
As Magnapop took the stage and began to charge through their set, squeezing as much as they could into the brief time they were allotted, it was easy to see why musicians like Stipe and Mould were so enamored by them (and why you should be too). The songs are smart and possess a distinct edge. Ruthie Morris’s guitar has more than enough crunch to provide a counterbalance to Linda Hopper’s catchy pop hooks. Seeing the band on stage was a little nostalgic, but the show was too engaging and the sound too fresh to wander too far into the past.
About three fourths of the way through the show Magnapop paused to praise the newly retired Guided by Voices and play their version of “Game of Pricks”. Although Magnapop didn’t perform the song with quite the drunken swagger of Robert Pollard, they did do it more than justice.
Magnapop only played a few songs from their new album, Mouthfeel. This is a shame because the record manages to rekindle the best elements of Hot Boxing without sounding dated. Played live, “Stick to Me”, one of the best songs from Mouthfeel was blistering and urgent. Hammering guitars and lyrics about “Benzedrine and nicotine” drove the song home.
Following “Stick to Me”, the show came to a close with “Open the Door”. The band then ran down the road to stop in on Bob Mould, who was spinning at a bar around the corner. I, in turn, stumbled into the cool night air of the sordid DC neighborhood and off to another bar, satisfied that I had seen one hell of a show from a band far too talented to be playing for 100 people.