Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Casiotone for the Painfully Alone and Magical Beautiful

On Sunday night I caught these two bands at The Black Cat Backstage; they're on tour through the first week of May and I'd recommend them to anyone fortunate enough to live in one of the cities they're visiting. Songs, info and tour dates for CFTPA and for Magical Beautiful . This is DIY/laptop rock at its best, and a chance to see two great indie groups on a national tour.

The lead singer and keyboardist of Magical Beautiful, Tyson Torstensen, has a strong baritone that he makes even more interesting by occasionally running it through a few effects pedals. Every instrument in the band is at some point wrung through a loop, or an echo machine, or one of the other multiple boxes of gadgetry on the stage with them. Even the drum kit had some echo on it and was turned up loud--rendering each smashing note that much deeper and sharper. These guys crammed more wires and little black boxes on the stage than you'll find in an average jumbo jet. Yet the songs, for all their drone, are surprisingly tender; Tostensen's voice is strong yet beguiling enough to suck you into these mini-operas.

The average song (and "song" seems an inadequate way to describe the loud angularity of the music they're producing) starts with noise (a hum or drone of some kind) that is slowly joined by a thumping drum, striking guitars that come and go throughout (often resisting forming a rhythm line) and Torstensen's vocals and keyboards bring it all together into something that you almost think you can dance to.

Seeing bands in a tiny space like The Black Cat Backstage can be a mixed experience; sure you get to be super close to the guys on stage, but is that always what you want? I find the small stage (just a couple inches off the ground) can sometimes dim the impressiveness of a performance--turning mysterious musicians into just normal guys, and therefore losing some of the magic of the live show. But these are both such DIY bands that the Backstage was the perfect spot to catch them in.

The CDs and vinyls for sale were charmingly simple and homemade. No factory production here; Magical Beautiful even had tapes for sale that I'm sure they recorded themselves at home. Before the show, and during the Magical Beautiful set, Owen Ashworth (the lead singer and composer for CFTPA) was manning the merch table. He set it all up, took my five dollars for the Magical Beautiful CD I bought, and signed some of the CD's and shirts that were sold. CFTPA is totally his band, he writes the lyrics, draws the pictures for the merch and on the albums he accompanies himself on all the instruments.

In the live show Ashworth was backed by Magical Beautiful and they seemed perfectly comfortable playing Ashworth's tunes. The bands have a similar sound, but CFTPA gets a bit slower and introspective. Ashworth's voice is interesting for its fragility and his ability to continue singing so slowly that it almost seems like he's wandered off the melody; all of which matches the somewhat depressing nature of his lyrics. This was two solid hours of indie rock at its finest; talented guys making the music they want to make, and doing it all on their terms. After the last song Ashworth said thanks a lot and then hopped off stage to get back to the merch table.

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