Perhaps the most unusual act of this past weekend's Underground Music Showcase was Magic Sword. This mysterious trio hails from Boise and two of the musicians perform incognito while a third member handles the projections in a way that is far from obvious. “I try to set up in a way that you can't see it, because I feel like it ruins the magic when you see hot dogs being made,” says that member, who's known as The Weaver. The latter “weaves the web of the universe,” according to a bandmember known as The Keeper.
The group originated when The Keeper became a little lost as a musician — and perhaps in life in general — and sought an unorthodox method of regaining focus. “I went to Vipassana, a meditation retreat,” reveals The Keeper. “It was ten days, and you meditate eight to ten hours a day. I didn't do it to go get clarity on my music; I did it because a buddy of mine had had such great results with it. Day seven it dawned on me that this is what I wanted to do. It was the one constant in my life — '80s epic soundtrack music. The stars aligned and I met Shay Plummer [the artist who does Magic Sword's comic-book art] and the rest of Magic Sword, and it felt right. Everything fell into place.”
The group wrote songs that wouldn't be out of place in films like Buckaroo Banzai, Blade Runner, Wavelength, Time Bandits and The Keep. Vangelis, Giorgio Moroder, John Carpenter and Jean Michel Jarre provided a bit of musical inspiration behind Magic Sword's sound. That and, naturally, Daft Punk and that band's anonymous yet unmistakable stage personae.
The simple yet impactful stage show consists of two masked, cloaked figures with a glowing line of light across where the eyes would be. At some point in the set, The Keeper will raise a glowing sword lit up with LEDs during the epic music build of the set. At early shows, fans would come to the merch table seeking out the swords and Magic Sword eventually obliges so that those who come to see Magic Sword again can join in on the fun.
But it isn't just the heavy synths that make up the core sound of the band, it is also the GIT graduate-level shredding that The Seeker unleashes throughout the songs, creating those cheesy, bombastic guitar leads that you might hear on any number of '80s soundtracks and in bands where studio musicians ruled the day.
“I seek out the sickest riffs,” jokes The Seeker. “Our goal is to always get as over the top as we can without going overboard.”
And it's a fine balance that Magic Sword has mastered. Its debut album, released in January, Magic Sword Vol. 1, isn't merely a nostalgia kick, and it isn't awesomely cheesy purely for the sake of irony; instead, it is a set of songs that turn the notion of the band's gimmickon its head because the songwriting is actually very strong. As if someone did something that could be silly right and made it into something of legitimate quality that can be enjoyed on multiple levels by transcending mere kitsch. Accompanying the album is a copy of the comic book drawn and colored by the aforementioned Shay Plummer, giving this multimedia band another dimension to its own mythology.
The debut Magic Sword show was at the 2013 Treefort Music Festival in the band's home town of Boise, after festival founder Eric Gilbert, of the psychedelic pop band Finn Riggins, sought out the trio for other events before the people in Magic Sword felt ready to perform live (they'd only shared songs to Soundcloud). The identities of the band's members have remained shrouded in mystery, with rumors that Eric Gilbert is a member of the band, as is Built to Spill singer and guitarist Doug Martsch. Magic Sword is happy to neither confirm nor deny the rumors, though with Built to Spill guitarist Brett Netson joining Magic Sword on stage as a guitarist for the end of the set at Treefort 2015, they could be true.
“There are several reasons why I wanted to do that, but mainly it was because I wanted to start with a blank slate,” says The Keeper, addressing the reason for the band's anonymity. “We weren't planning on going on tour to other cities, we were focusing on where we lived. I was doing other things and I didn't want people to show up expecting something from you because that's what you're known for. But with this, people didn't know what to expect. When you're wearing a mask, inhibitions dissolve and you can do whatever you want and not feel embarrassed.
“The audience, too, gets into it easier, and people got invited to a secret party, and no one knows how it started or where it's going,” adds The Weaver.
Whatever the real identity of the band, it's certain that the band's visual element and its stage antics provide more than the average level of entertainment — and the music stands on its own.
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If you'd like to contact me, Tom Murphy, on Twitter, my handle is @simianthinker.