I first saw Magstatic six years ago at the Zephyr Club. It was SLUG magazine’s 12th anniversary party (give or take a year). They’re the only band I remember from that night. Before they played, I met singer-guitarist Terrance D.H. near the swag boxes. We were both pretty trashed and rooting through the giveaway CDs by the door. I didn’t know D.H. was in Magstatic until they played.
His keening voice was actually pretty irritating at first. His and Spencer Jacobs’ (now of Hudson River School) guitars were what got me—they were loud and crunchy but melodious. Thus hooked, I listened more closely. The songs were perfect pop nuggets, but with an underlying punk-ness—not punk-pop, mind you, but hooky, petulant music. D.H.’s voice grew on me as he sang “If it feeels like hooome/ Then it must be where you’re from.” I watched the rest of the set from a doorway, transfixed.
That night, Jacobs handed me the band’s newly-minted Kung Fu EP. It was kind of a letdown. I had the songs, but Magstatic’s live energy was lost in studio limbo. Thankfully, Jacobs called soon after—the band’s debut full-length, Cruiseliner, was ready.
Cruiseliner has since gone down as a local classic. People will tell you how the wistful “Boat” and the dim “Go Fish” were instant favorites. Thing is, Magstatic still hadn’t nailed the live vibe, despite songs like “Diddy” that at least hinted at some potency.
The subsequent Wristrockets & Rollercoasters marked the moment when Magstatic finally got some piss-and-vinegar on disc. It fairly roared from the speakers, but having been conditioned to expect a subdued band that liked to ride melodies and employ rhythm as structure, the songs felt too loud, too fast, too rockin.’ It must have been the power trio format (Jacobs had split) or a blast of pent-up horsepower—but the songs took a backseat as the band floored it. It was cathartic, for the listener and for Magstatic.
After Wristrockets, drummer Joe Patterson and bassist Pete Lindgren vacated their posts. D.H. re-staffed the band with bassist Chelsa Vaun, guitarist Jason Horn and drummer Garry Ventura. They started playing out—I caught a show, rather accidentally, at Liquid Joe’s. Magstatic rocked balls. D.H. sent me home with Country vs. City.
The new songs were typical D.H. introspection and woolgathering, melodious but—I hesitate to use the word—darker. They were also more refined, more varied in pace and aesthetic. As a surprise the airy “Home,” the first Magstatic song I ever paid attention to, was souped up and kicking a little ass.
I’d like to say this is when I really began to dig Magstatic in earnest, but I can’t. That moment came when I saw them perform tracks from their new album, She’s Just a Buzz (Magstatic.com), live at City Weekly’s Showdown to South by Southwest in January.
Watching Terrance D.H. tune up and sardonically sing Madonna’s “Borderline” to check his mic, I noticed Ventura and Horn were gone. Were they somehow the key to Magstatic’s reinvigoration? Could the two new guys (Wim Becker and Jesse Mills) hang? My answer was Magstatic mowing through a raucous but classy set—almost entirely composed of tracks from the new album.
They toyed with the audience, opening the throttle on a transcendent live-music ebb-and-flow. The toothy “Downtown Girlfriend” gave way to the mid-tempo love song “Run to You,” then the brooding “Long Road,” the tongue-in-cheek seether “Bitchin’ House,” the slow-burn pep talk “This Suicide,” and the breakneck “My Little Runaway” before a particularly feisty rendition of “Wristrocket.” Mills and Vaun locked in like old partners. Becker threaded the best lead guitar the band has ever boasted through the songs. D.H. showed he’d reined in his voice, demonstrating a dynamic range of moods even as his keening, now a Magstatic trademark, remained.
I saw them again a week later—same story, even better. And I’m going to see them again on April 7 because there’s no better time to get into Magstatic, again.
MAGSTATIC Urban Lounge, 241 S. 500 East, Thursday April 7, 10 p.m. 746-0558