Concert Review: Magic City Hippies at The Catalyst, Santa Cruz, CA

There have been a lot of things over the last 2 years that have really taken the wind out of our sails.  This “plague” that they’re still trying to convince of us nearly destroyed live music, but thankfully it’s starting to trickle back and last night we got to see one of our favorite live bands, Magic City Hippies!

Full disclosure,  I (and my family)  LOVE this band!  We’ve got all their CDs, I’ve got everything they’ve put out on vinyl, the Mrs. and our daughter both sport their t-shirts…our Spotify libraries are chock-full of their music, the girls follow them on IG, and we’ve been to every Bay Area show they’ve done.  If there was a fan club for them, like in the old days, one of the 3 of us would probably be the president of it!  So yes, I am biased.

The Catalyst in Santa Cruz is *somewhat legendary.   It’s been around for DECADES.  I’ve been catching shows there since the 1980s and in fact even played a gig or two there myself way back when.  I still love it there.  Very cool vibe, great bands coming through, cheap drinks…what’s not to love?

To say we were anxiously awaiting this show would be the understatement of the century.   We got in a groove of seeing roughly 20 shows a year, then Covid hit… and boy, did we need a fix!!!  We’d been sitting on the tickets for months, and this show is our scheduled kick-off for a plethora of shows we’ll be attending over the next several months.

The opening band was Bay Ledges.  I’d never heard of them, but MCH has had some great opening acts in the past, so our hopes were high.

The band was a two piece outfit, a drummer and a multi-instrumentalist/vocalist. Right off the bat, the odds are stacked against them in a live music setting. It’s tough to put on a compelling show with only two people up there.

Bay Ledges

I’ll give them this, their songs were pretty good.  As a two piece they are relying on a lot of samples and loops to fill out their sound.  For a drummer, this is an arduous task, as you’re locked in to a computer generated tempo that does.not.deviate.  Bay Ledges’ drummer was rock solid in this regard and literally didn’t miss a beat.  The vocalist had a decent voice and was not bad on guitar.  He also spent a lot of time tapping pads and tweaking knobs…much like watching a DJ, which is slightly more fun than watching paint dry.  That is honestly my only point of criticism for these guys.  They played live music, they did NOT put on a show.  They presented themselves as though they’d just returned from a day of checking out garage sales and they just generally lacked charisma. It had the feel of watching a couple buddies practice… The good news is that is easily overcome.  With some effort and more gigs under their belts I’m sure they’ll become more entertaining.

Then the Hippies hit the stage.  They opened with “Diamond”, one of thier newer tunes, and the crowd was drawn right in.  Until this point I had wondered how they would pull off their new material live, as it is much more “studio-esque” than their earlier stuff, but I had NOTHING to worry about!    The room was enthusiastic and in high spirits, and the band was simply on fire.    They had a new guy sitting in on keys and guitar, and he fit in seamlessly.

That’s the new guy, far right.

The Hippies ripped out a solid 90 minute set, which unbelievably contained the entirety of my personal Top-10 from their catalog. Wrapping up the set with my all-time favorite song of theirs “Fanfare”, was the cherry on top of an unbelievably excellent show!

Close enough to the stage that I was able to capture the set list!

Then after the shortest break ever, they came back and just knocked it out of the park with the encore, rounding out my Top 10 by including “Indiana”, perhaps my favorite song from their Modern Animal album.

This show allows marked the return of their original drummer Pat, who’d (for reasons unknown to me) sat out the first portion of the tour. Pat is a fantastic, if unconventional, drummer and it was great to see him at the kit. The guys were obviously stoked to have him back on stage with them and they all seemed to be having the time of their lives.

Pat is BACK!!!

Magic City Hippies are one of those bands that, in my not-so-humble view, are BETTER live than on record. And their records kick ass. There are only a few bands I’d put in this category, and they’re all heavy hitters – U2, Dave Matthew’s Band, and Primus come to mind… That’s pretty good company.

Overall, I can’t say enough great things about this show. It was exciting, it was a great vibe, and it showcased some spectacular musicians at the top of their game!

Welcome back to California MCH! Thanks for an amazing night! We can’t wait for the next one, which thankfully is TONIGHT in San Francisco! We’ll see ya there, front row like always!!

Thanks for reading!

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