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The heart of rock

Magic Theatre seeks to revitalize rock 'n' roll by rediscovering its soul

By Bret Lueder

It has been argued that rock 'n' roll peaked in the 1960s and '70s. Bands like The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Santana, Cream, Led Zeppelin and The Who, among others, set the standard for creative, mind-expanding rock 'n' roll. While the music that stood the test of time became known as classic rock, experimental sub-genres such as new wave, hard rock, glam rock and, more recently, grindcore and rap core were all innovative and had early success--but just as quickly became clichéd and collapsed under their own weight. These sub-styles haven't stood the test of time. And so stands the scene today, ready to collapse under its own Rage Against-the-Korn-Bizkit weight. Fans are anxiously awaiting the next heroic rock 'n 'roll figure or band to lead a new charge into uncharted musical territory. But how long must we wait for the next Jimi Hendrix, Jerry Garcia or Kurt Cobain? And what do we do in the meantime? You go back, say the four members of Chico's "world rock" group Magic Theatre. You go back to rock 'n' roll's heyday and attempt to find the place where it lost its way and go from there. Magic Theatre is trying to remember an era when the music held the promise of peace, freedom and the expansion of our awareness, values hard to find in contemporary, mainstream music. "One of the reasons playing rock 'n' roll is fun is because it's so anti-cool to play now," says short, black-haired 29-year-old bassist Jason Tate, who came up with the band's name while reading the Herman Hesse novel Steppenwolf. "Rock 'n' roll had its heyday. They said it would never die, but it did. So now you have all these musicians who grew up on rock 'n' roll and are playing everything but. It's good to learn to play technically with Latin or jazz, whatever, but it's loads of fun bringing that back to the source, that 'primalness' of rock 'n' roll." 'What I miss about today's rock is that you can't hear clear notes," ponytailed singer/guitarist Joe Chamberlin, who's 25. "Most pile on so many guitar effects that it sounds like someone dumping bricks out or something. To me, rock 'n 'roll is about hearing and feeling the wood and the metal sing. It's not about a bunch of processing. And save for the jam bands, no one is creating on stage anymore. It's all rehearsed to the point of perfection. It's commercial product." Tate interjects: "And we do improvise on stage, but we aren't a jam band. All of our songs are five minutes or less and are sprinkled with many pop hooks. Besides, we play everything from our own originals to songs from Jane's Addiction, The Beatles, Curtis Mayfield and Katrina and the Waves ["Walking on Sunshine" is a fun fan favorite]. We mix it up pretty good." No matter how stripped down, the guitar, bass, drum and vocals arrangement is a proven formula for success. People love it. The storied career of KISS and the idea that the band's name is an acronym--for "Keep it simple, stupid"--exemplifies this point. But MT has more that just a formula going for it. Like the music of many of the bands of rock's glory days, MT's tunes are wrapped around positive, uplifting lyrics that bring people together, they say. "I don't listen to much vocal music," says the 29-year-old keyboardist/vocalist David Deveaux, a trim, relaxed man who has played in the local acid jazz troupe Potluck with Tate. "The lyrics today just don't hold any meaning for me. But Joe's lyrics I really like. They're positive and are more of the way I feel." Being positive is paramount to these four because of the current state of the media and how they continuously pump society full of negativity. All you see, the band members say, is anger, violence and war. So they're trying to do their part to change that. Each has his own anecdote of how the media have affected him and how playing in this band gives him a weapon against the negativity. But none is more pertinent than the account given by drummer Damir Popovac, a slender, clean-cut 25-year-old. "I came to America in '94 from Bosnia," says Popovac, who is reluctant to talk until prodded by band members. "The media caused the war there. I was smuggled out to Denmark with my sister when I was 17. And in my town of Mostar, they wouldn't let us go to school or work. So we escaped. The people in Denmark kept trying to send us back to Bosnia, but luckily the U.S accepted us. I've brought my parents over since. But when you see the things that you see when you live in a war zone, you either get used to it or it gets to you. And it has affected different family members differently. So I try to stay as positive as I can." Each band member had something against rock 'n' roll for one reason or another. But when they all got together for the first time and talked about why they were so frustrated, they found their common ground: that rock 'n' roll combines all forms of music and is really a kind of world music that brings people together. So they recorded a CD that they believe demonstrates this thinking. This self-titled effort will be unveiled to the public at MT's CD release party at LaSalles on August 17 . The CD's track list is seven strong songs of infectious tunes geared toward bringing anyone and everyone together. "What the Hell," has a jangly, distortion-laden groove that is too edgy to be hippie rock. "The Right Train" has a catchy vocal hook, "Be on the right train and you'll be on the right track," that bounces you right along, while the ska-inflected "Monkey Puzzle," with its progressive chorus and Sublime-like, mellow-but-gritty guitar solo, is indicative of MT's all-encompassing sound.

Chico News & Review
August 9, 2001

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