At Debaser Medis Stockholm 30 October 2014.
Why don’t more people like the Magic Numbers? They are one of the greatest bands around today and proved this again last night in Stockholm.
For the uninitiated, the band burst onto the scene 10 years ago with a critically acclaimed and UK platinum selling debut album. Consisting of two sets of siblings this English band formed in the London suburbs are mis famed for performing a sort of Mammas and Pappas sunny, harmony driven, guitar led pop.
Ten years ago this earned them considerable success. But since then they seem to have lost their allure and now play much smaller gigs.
Apparently they are pretty successful in Sweden too, describing it last night as their second home. Their second album reached number 3 on the Swedish charts. But the smallish club was hardly packed last night.
Perhaps their dwindling popularity is because the poppy sixties ish style that they are associated with is just not cool anymore. But this reading of their music is a gross misconception. And for the the unconvinced it is time to Wake Up, which as the title of the opening song of their set last night and their latest album Alias, the band seem to be asking us to do too.
OK their sound is not new. But it is steeped in music history, from pop yes, but also soul (a Curtis Mayfield number crept in last night), folk, country and most notably rock. And the arrangements of their songs are deceptively simple but extremely sophisticated, particularly their 3 part harmonies, which are simply wonderful.
But the musicianship is also, again subtle, but brilliant. Notably the bass playing of Michelle Stodart who plays the instrument in a very melodic way full of great running lines and fills and her brother and leader of the group Romeo’s guitar playing. Using one guitar all night when many others would choose several, he is a quiet virtuoso, whether it is pop, rock, soul, rhythm or lead he is at ease with it all. In fact Romeo and Michelle are among the best guitar and bass players around in contemporary music.
This was in evidence on the second track last night, You Know. In fact the whole of the band’s strengths are at the fore in this early highlight of the evening, which like many of their best songs grows into quite an intense work out in the best rock traditions. It has breaks, shifts in tempo, wonderful harmony singing, subtle undulating guitar riffs and then a sudden explosion of jazz tinged rock guitar, thumping bass and primal drumming. Incredibly exciting and almost Doors like!
In fact Michelle wields her bass these days like a seventies rock god and drummer Sean Gannon with his long blonde locks and beard would look at home in a seventies rock outfit too.
Last night’s set was predictably heavy on songs from recent fourth album Alias. But this was no bad thing. It is their best album since their debut with a more rocky style and simpler songs than the overladen third album The Runaway.
The songs from Alias were also even better live, with the singing last night at its best. I have seen the Magic Numbers a few times now and maybe the smaller venues suit them better, as in the past they have sometimes seemed nervous which has seemed to affect their voices.
Not so last night, with keyboardist and percussionist Angela Gannon’s voice in particular sounding very strong. The harmonies of Michelle and Angela at times are reminiscent of sixties soul bands. Romeo, who has a pretty dam good soft country lilted voice himself, referred to the women last night as the “soul sisters”.
But Angela also sounded Stevie Nicks like husky too last night. The band’s use of three voices, two female one male, have always had a slight Fleetwood Mac feel. But the more rockier direction of the new material really confirmed this last night.
And just as I was thinking to myself this sounds really like the Mac during the excellent new song Shot in the Dark, Angela broke into a mini cover of Rhiannon.
Of course the stand out tracks from the band’s debut album were all there last night with the ever respectful Swedish crowd in total silence during I See You, You See Me, with Romeo and Angela performing a heart breaking duet.
And the main set ended with Love Me Like You, a song for which alone the band should be considered one of the greats.
For all Romeo’s brooding self critical lyrics though he, and the rest of the band, also seem like really nice people. Romeo is the kind of guy I feel I could spend a wonderful evening in the pub talking about the greats with.
And in what seems to be a tradition and evidence of their friendliness, the band invited the support group up for the encore to sing Neil Young’s Harvest Moon.
Mornings Eleven closed the evening. Poppy yes, with sprightly guitar and harmonies, but with great grungy rock guitar fills too and a superb arrangement and oh the bass lines!
If you have never heard the Magic Numbers listen to them now! If you have forgotten about them or dismissed them as simply “pleasant” as many critics seem to have, listen harder. Even better go see them live, they deserve a far bigger audience and I am sure you will have a great night.