To get a valid description of a Magdalena Bay concert performance, just rely on duo co-founders and real-life partners Mica Tenenbaum and Matthew Lewin to sum it up quite nicely. For that to happen, though, the Los Angeles-based pair of electropop/synthpop singer-songwriters like to save “The Beginning” until the end. At least that’s when Magdalena Bay put the finishing touches on a pretty picture during a feel-good dance party at the Bluebird Theater in Denver on 2 November. In doing so, these time travelers in reverse gave many true believers the joy ride of their lives:
Long before then, the sold-out crowd, threatening to push the Bluebird past its 500-person capacity, remained on their feet from the get-go instead of deciding to “sit back”. Magdalena Bay had colored their Mercurial World with love. Yet, in order to consider the paraphrasing of another saying — “The journey is far more enjoyable than the destination” — let’s back up to the starting line.
Two days after Halloween, the audience was still in a celebratory mood as promising Brooklyn R&B-soul singer-songwriter Bayli managed to squeeze in quite a few numbers — including “Act Up”, “Thinking of Drugs”, and “Telly Bag” from her new Stories 2 EP — during a 30-minute opening set. Customary costumes (glittery cheerleader, bad-to-the-bone skeleton) and outrageous outfits (the bearded guy wearing a Goldilocks wig and a sailor shirt) were characteristic of the Dia De Los Muertos (a.k.a. Day of the Dead) festivities that seemed to capture the spirit of anyone there to see Magdalena Bay.
The duo of Argentinian heritage (Tenenbaum was born in Buenos Aires), who met as 15-year-old Miami musicians, had reason to rejoice, too. Appearing as Denver headliners for the first time just over a year after making their full-length album debut with Mercurial World, they have been the subject of praiseworthy words such as “genuinely evocative” (Pitchfork), “timeless and timeless” (Rolling Stone) and “one of the most genuine artists in pop right now” (Vulture).
So if you feel low / Sit back, enjoy the show /– Lyrics to Magdalena Bay’s “The Beginning”
Like a kaleidoscope / In technicolor tonight
In PopMatters’ October 2021 review, Rob Moura — giving the LP an 8 (out of 10) rating — wrote, “Mercurial World is another step in the right direction, adding a cerebral heft (the kind only a full-length collection of songs tends to achieve) to the duo’s winning formula.”
That seems light years after shifting their interests from King Crimson and Genesis to edgy electropop artists like Charli XCX, Grimes, and Chairlift, though their flair to dare the masses also brings to mind duos such as Phantogram, Krewella, and Sofi Tukker. The creative couple with a visual touch officially formed Magdalena Bay in 2016, its designation inspired by an administrator and acquaintance of Lewin’s named Maggie Bay.
The multitalented record makers and social media monsters, who seemingly do everything together (including making TikTok and YouTube videos in their Los Angeles apartment), also brought some new items to the merch table. While the album’s deluxe edition (Luminelle Recordings) has been out since 23 September, maybe fans were trying to get their hands on collectibles such as a signed mercury-colored double vinyl copy of the record that’s sold out online. But I can’t remember previously seeing such a rush on a band’s wares as soon as the doors opened at 7:00 PopMatters, two hours before that main act was scheduled to hit the stage.
Perhaps it had something to do with fan participation hitting an optimum level. Magdalena Bay’s Deluxe version not only included remixes and alternative versions of previous tracks but also “an amalgamation of new songs that didn’t originally fit the flow of Mercurial World,” they said in a recent release. Then there were voice messages left by devoted followers encouraged to call into last year’s “Secrets” hotline.
“We’ve been quietly collecting and listening to these secrets … not in a creepy way but because we knew we wanted to use them in some way, but weren’t sure how to,” Magdalena Bay’s release continued. “When we started working on the Deluxe, we wanted it to flow like the original album did. The voicemails happened to work perfectly to tie together all the different elements of the record. We’ve brought our listeners into our world and love how their voices give the album new stories and meaning.”
Such messages also found their way into an energetic, captivating, and entertaining performance led by the tireless Tenenbaum, a 26-year-old who looked capable of dancing, prancing, and entrancing the night away. In a multicolored leotard with flared sleeves, along with cute pigtails and a pleasantly sweet, youthful voice, she possessed an unbridled enthusiasm and cheerleader’s sunny disposition. The only times this human hummingbird (who once described herself as “a Fiona Apple fangirl”) basically rested her wings were while playing a few notes on the melodica.
Lewin, at 27, about six months older than his partner, wore a tight-fitting jumpsuit with a matching color palette. Previously a jazz guitarist, he had his hands full instrumentally, playing various guitars (including bass) and keyboards while also manning the synth. Drummer Nick Villa, who performed with Lewin and Tenenbaum when they were high school prog rockers in a band called Tabula Rasa, was the only other onstage musician.
Since this project (and its deluxe follow-up) felt somewhat like a concept album, Magdalena Bay apparently wanted their audience to buy into the parallel universe where they reside on stage. One modestly sized screen behind them contained countless images for each song, along with a kaleidoscope of vivid colors as bright as some of the band’s most optimistic tunes.
There also was an automated robotic voice coming from a masked face on the screen. Known as Chaeri, named after the Mercurial World debut single that drew resounding applause from its opening notes, the AI talking figurehead spoke softly on occasion to the crowd and held brief conversations with Tenenbaum during intermittent “skits,” as designated on the setlist. Most of these staged chats were intentionally comical or whimsical, but some impatient audience members eventually could be heard telling Chaeri to “shut up.”
That took little away from about 70 trend-worthy minutes of fancy feats from these fashionistas of fantasyland. Tenenbaum otherwise kept crowd banter to a minimum as Magdalena Bay opened with four straight Mercurial World numbers, starting with the title cut that ends with its clever “living in the mercurial world” nod to Madonna. The disco inferno of “Secrets (Your Fire)” was another early delight, followed by “Hysterical Us”, an R&B sing-along that briefly featured Tenenbaum on melodica. The only thing missing was a glittering mirror ball.
After dipping into their past with Tenenbaum leading a clap-along on “Venice” from 2020’s A Little Rhythm and a Wicked Feeling, then three numbers from 2019’s Mini Mix, Vol. 1 featuring Lewin on electric guitar, Magdalena Bay returned to more Mercurial World material.
“Chaeri”, a song about “mental health, friendship, loneliness, and control,” according to a release quoting the band, was another popular choice, particularly near its climactic finish. Sounding (and looking) like a highly trained, motivational aerobics instructor preparing her super troupers for a tough task by saying, “we’re gonna try to do something together now,” Tenenbaum instructed the crowd repeatedly with the line: “Three, four, down to the floor, lose control, a little more.”
Five more songs from the original 14-track Mercurial World (also ending with “The Beginning”) made the set list, as they followed up with another tune presenting more synthesizer swells and bashing drums (along with visions of the sun and moon) while reaching the “Halfway” mark of the show.
If there was any reason to take a brief break from the manic display of unrestrained power and glory to present Magdalena Bay neophytes with another unexpected moment, the timing was perfect. Lewin and Tenenbaum came together, sitting on stools in the middle of the stage, for “All You Do”, possibly the best of the deluxe tracks that wasn’t on Mercurial World’s initial release.
With Lewin’s thumping bass underlining Tenenbaum’s dreamy desire to “let the party never end,” the song exploded into a swirl of romantic strings and things, with lyrics typifying the heartfelt love only a couple can explore:
All you do / Is good / I live for the moment /– Lyrics from Magdalena Bay’s “All You Do”
I die when it’s over / So hold me like you should
Even though the performance was enhanced by backing instrumental and vocal tracks, it didn’t detract from the beauty of such an intense expression of affection.
The spoken-word lyrics to the more intimate “Dreamcatching” — “Train window facing east / And you’re always next to me” — may have been less effective, at least until the night’s next-to-last Mercurial World track erupted into screeching guitars and more sonic psychedelia, leading to wild cheers.
That’s not to say Magdalena Bay’s wonderful world is without any harsh words or nightmarish images, though.
- In the “fucked up world” of “U Wanna Dance” from 2019’s Mini Mix, Vol. 1 EP), Tenenbaum implores, “Face yourself, erase yourself for love.”
- Magdalena Bay followed that up quickly in the set with “Mine” (from the same EP), which they told Atwood Magazine is “a musical-esque song that was melodramatic and extra that talked about the heartbreak of waiting for someone to come forward with their feelings.”
- Mercurial World’s “You Lose!” started instrumentally with a playful, video-game vibe. Then, Tenenbaum snarls, “I’m running out of my time, a flower gone dry / Your lips touching mine won’t do.”
- “Set Me Off”, a track from 2019’s day/pop EP that fell in the middle of a three-song encore, is “an oldie,” offered Tenenbaum about the rocker, first released as a single in April 2017. With its upbeat melody, she seemed to enjoy singing “love gone wrong” lyrics like, “I burned all of your pictures. But yeah, I’m keeping all your T-shirts.”
Such artistic takes revealed other sides to two musicians who proved they’re human, too. Even when they feel the need to rely on a science-fiction creation unnecessarily announcing to an already jacked-up crowd: “If you would like to hear an encore, please clap now.”
By the time that bit had run its course, though, Tenenbaum skillfully worked a happy-ending interlude from “The Beginning” into some of her final thoughts, saying, “Hey, Denver, we traveled all this way to be here together with you. Like a butterfly floating in amber, we’ve made this moment — eternal.”
Maybe so, yet it was the striking staging of the album’s freaky “Follow the Leader”, performed at least 25 minutes earlier, that might have stuck with anyone craving a Halloween sequel this night. While wearing a creepy mask with long bunny ears, Tenenbaum gently tempted trusting travelers to “Follow the leader, the rabbit / He needs it, he loves it.” Then all hell broke loose, an explosion of electric guitar reverb and voices screaming incomprehensible words before effects turned Tenenbaum’s voice into a Laurie Anderson-possessed, Vocaloid-like creature who sings, “Now do you see you took the bait? / Took the bait.”
Indeed, it was as easy as a hunter dangling a carrot in front of a hungry hare. “Follow the Leader” was the night’s WTF moment, but without reservation, the overjoyed crowd seemed ready to make another date with Magdalena Bay before their fall tour of North America concludes later this month. Even if it means heading down a disco-fever dream rabbit hole trippier than anything a subterranean Alice in Underland discovered long ago.
Bluebird Theater – Denver [2 November 2022]
1. “Mercurial World” (2021’s Mercurial World)
2. “Dawning of the Season” (2021’s Mercurial World)
3. “Secrets (Your Fire)” (2021’s Mercurial World)
4. “Hysterical Us” (2021’s Mercurial World)
5. “Venice” (2020’s A Little Rhythm and a Wicked Feeling)
6. “U Wanna Dance” (2019’s Mini Mix, Vol. 1)
7. “Nothing Baby” (2019’s Mini Mix, Vol. 1)
8. “Mine” (2019’s Mini Mix, Vol. 1)
9. “Chaeri” (2021’s Mercurial World)
10. “Halfway” (2021’s Mercurial World)
11. “All You Do” (2022’s Mercurial World Deluxe)
12. “You Lose!” (2021’s Mercurial World)
13. “Follow the Leader” (2021’s Mercurial World)
14. “How to Get Physical” (2020’s A Little Rhythm and a Wicked Feeling)
15. “Sky2Fall” (2020’s Mini Mix, Vol. 2)
16. “Body” (2020’s Mini Mix, Vol. 2)
17. “Dreamcatching” (2021’s Mercurial World)
1. “Killshot” (2020’s A Little Rhythm and a Wicked Feeling)
2. “Set Me Off” (2019’s day/pop EP)
3. “The Beginning” (2021’s Mercurial World)