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Progressive Rock Concert Reviews

Magic Pie

Live at RoSFest, April, 2007

Review by Josh Turner

I once heard somebody say that this band deserved to be on the same playing field with Spock’s Beard and The Flower Kings. If they had more than two albums (Spock’s Beard has at least nine and I’ve lost count on The Flower Kings), this might be a fair assessment. Anyhow, this is a point well-taken.
I had mixed emotions about this band. I use this event as a means to learn, gain exposure to acts, and discover new talent. To see a band return after one year was initially a disappointment. Don’t get me wrong, they were one of the best live/unknown acts I have ever seen, but it had only been a year. How much can a band do in this span of time? The answer is a bit of a shocker, because as they proved, they were completely different this year with entirely new songs. Eventually, they played something familiar, but the majority of their set was dedicated to their newly burnished album, Circus of Life, rather than their previous work. In their freshly harvested produce, it seemed as if they took the direction of Moon Safari and Karmakanic.

Like “Spiderman 2,” the sequel was just as good if not better (While I actually liked the odd numbered ones better, the rule applies here). There were aspects that didn’t provide the same punch, but that might have been out of their hands and more the responsibility of the sound engineers. Plus, where they wavered, they gave us much more mature compositions. The harmonies weren’t as sharp and tactful, but instrumentally they were more or less better.

Having not heard the new album, it was like seeing a whole new band, and the opener was not to be missed. It was good I fell outside my pattern of tardiness. It featured astounding keys, and like a professional card player, their style this night was clean, aggressive, and tight. After the intro, four guitars made it onto stage and the sound they created with them was marvelous. Even though they are Norwegian, they are obviously influenced by Swedish music. Their main influences include The Flower Kings, Transatlantic, and A.C.T.

Towards the beginning, they offered us to “Have a Piece of Magic Pie.” As corney as it sounds, it was essential.

Allan Olsen, who is listed as both lead vocals and guitars, was a friendly chap both on and off the stage. By the way, the duties of lead singing alternated and the guitars were mostly layered. If asked, anybody surveyed would think that Erik Hanssen was the lead singer and Kim Stenberg was the main guitarist; however Olsen’s contributions provided that pinch of mysterious dust.

Their melodies lull the listener to sleep, but it’s due to the fact they play lullabies.

The band spent much time conversing even though they were not strong English speakers. I give them kudos and smiley stickers for these attempts. Some of their dialog went like this: “I have something to say. I don’t have. I don’t know. Ha ha.” It was pleasantly funny. On the street, I pulled Gilbert Marshall (who is their stunning keyboardist) aside and he was obviously struggling to communicate with me. When I mentioned his manager’s name, only then did he realize my intent.

Last year, the harmonies were what did it for me. This year it was the guitar solos, which bordered on Roine Stolt and John Petrucci. Not to mention, I really liked the delivery of the bass. Lars Petter Holstad really sells it. I forgot how good they could be, and while they worked, I was instantly reminded of Transatlantic. It was also obvious that they were glad to be back and they even said it. They also stated something to the effect of being with family.

There was a song about watching that I really liked. It was called, “Watching the Waters,” and it was from the newly-minted Circus of Life. Afterwards, everyone was speechless and there was an extensive period of silence. The band looked disconcerted for a second, and then they were showered with claps. I don’t think the people were ready for it to end.

For starters, they were very good, but they only got better. Conjuring a line from the movie “Bachelor Party,” they nailed every song and then some. Many were tired but none would fall asleep, which is more than I can say for an independent Korean movie I saw at the film festival (“Retribution” if you must know), Nothing in this set was predictable in the least. This act went fast, and this equals good, as time flies when you’re caught up in the moment.

They had a song that sounded so much like Pink Floyd and Dream Theater’s “Octavarium.” I was worried they might get sued. Either way, this is a formula that I could consume for hours, and it was the only song that ended where expected. They were Beatlesque at times while other streaks featured jiffy jams of meandering guitars and funky bass. Repeatedly, they sold the false ending until this cut was poignantly terminated.

This was the seventh inning stretch before the grand slam ending as more crowd-pleasing moment’s remained. An immediate encore occurred as time was of the essence. As they turned away, the citizens said, “go back” and they did. This pushed the evening further out, but the people didn’t seem to care.

Nevertheless, the last song, “Motions of Desire” was practiced and polished, and incorporated some of the best harmonies of the night. I was happy to make this sacrifice of time in order to experience this material. Another false ending was cleverly sold, extending this set further, and there appeared to be new elements in this old song

They screwed up on one of the harmonies, but it worked nonetheless. When they did, they took a pithy second to collect themselves, and then relayed a “thank you” for the patience. This goes to show that sometimes it is best to cut your losses and stop while you’re ahead as they were precise the whole night. Regardless, they jumped back in after stopping. The unanticipated mess-up didn’t faze them, and it was soon forgotten. I was too focused on the chills their music was giving me. This seemed to be one of many themes this year. Whenever there was disorder or chaos, bands pulled through undeterred by the shrapnel. They took this stumble and fall as a cue to encourage audience participation. Among many, my brother (an opera singer) sang along.

This year featured some of the best headliners ever to grace this hallowed land, and this band warmed us up for the big finale. In terms of experience and talent, this year was a cross between years one through three. Furthermore, this repeat-offender gave this year its edge. Magic Pie actually sounds much better live than on their debut album. Once the queue is smooshed and my desk is cleared, I’ll have to give the new disc a spin.

Since they were back after a short time away and their keyboard-laden music hearkened to yesteryears, Magic Pie epitomized what was RoSfest as well as what is retro.
This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2007 Volume 3 at lulu.com/strangesound.
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