The thing about Magdalena Bay is that their music always comes back to their audience. This is a band with no shortage of dreams about success, and no delusions about who they’ll have to thank for getting them there.
On “Story,” off their 2020 EP A Little Rhythm and a Wicked Feeling, the two daydreamed they “could write a real big story / something worth knowing.” The duo, made up of Mica Tenenbaum and Matt Lewin, has always found its niche in giving and receiving: They can write their story, but they’re always aware of everyone who listens, those who complete the teleological link they propose between performer and crowd.
“I’ll give you everything you’ll ever want,” the duo promises us on the recently released “Unconditional.” Show up for the show, they’ll make it a good time.
The questions that this band is obsessed with — and the pressure they put themselves under to fulfill their audience — are not so different from those that artists have always asked of themselves and their audiences. But on Oct. 28 at San Francisco’s Regency Ballroom, Magdalena Bay demonstrated what has made the band such a shining example of Los Angeles’ (hyper)pop scene.
For the Halloween-adjacent show, Tenenbaum and Lewin pulled up as Peter Gabriel and Riker of “Star Trek,” respectively. They’ve upped their stage craft since the last time they were in the Bay with an animatronic incarnation of Chaeri, the fictional AI that forms one of the emotional cores of Mercurial World and the live show. Behind the duo, a projection of Chaeri’s face lamented the cons of her existence as a digital nomad; in between, audiences watch psychedelic and futuristic videos of Lewin shooting hoops, animated references to the duo’s cultural references (“Doctor Who” and “2001: A Space Odyssey” among them) and, of course, an homage to the edits that blew up “Killshot.”
The question posed at the top of “The End,” the lead track off Magdalena Bay’s 2021 hit record Mercurial World, “If the beginning is the end / and the end is the beginning / Then what’s the end anyway,” is the guiding light of the duo’s shows. They’re all about melding their position as performers with their position as artists. They know that they have to bring something to the table, the proverbial dawning of the season before the crowd joins them in becoming an hysterical us: How do they, as artists, create a moment of permanence among a glut of transience?
With Mercurial World, Magdalena Bay figured out how to make an album that doesn’t use big sounds and simple club beats as its departure point. Think of the changes in these titles, the movement from the innuendo of A Little Rhythm and a Wicked Feeling to the ambiguity and expanse of Mercurial World. The album sees the duo locating maturity in nostalgia, coating their club-rave polish with the dust of Nintendo 64s and Y2K.
Try on two of their tracks for size. Live, “Venice” is one of their most danceable tracks, but is so purified as to have no wiggle room. Performing “Dawning of the Season,” the duo showed how taking a couple steps back from the dancefloor might be better than collapsing in the center of it. They interrupt the track, lull it to a low to flesh out their own sensibility as artists, then reward their crowd’s patience with a flashy, shimmering return to the chorus. The same goes for “You Lose!”: A couple guys, so caught up moshing to the explosion of the chorus, sent one of their friends sprawling.
So much of Mercurial World is ephemeral, mirage-like — the twinkle of that ’90s aesthetic like a sunset on water. Magdalena Bay’s mission as performers is not to linger in that fading glory, but to bottle it. They know themselves and their audience; their music appeals to a niche corner of the club and techno sphere, a cross-section further chipped away at by music that lingers in a nearly year-specific nostalgia. They give everything to a crowd that seeks them out, a night to remember in technicolor.
“So if you feel low, sit back, enjoy the show,” they sing on “The Beginning,” which closes out most of their shows. It’s not about the assumption in “The End,” that the band has to last through the ages. Magdalena Bay is making this moment eternal.