Grab your dancing shoes and prepare to get down as Magic Mouth shakes its way into Arkansas for its maiden Little Rock show.
The Portland, Ore.-based four-piece whips up an infectious and groovy mix of rock, dance and greasy soul.
The band’s live attack is “very high-energy and fiery,” said lead singer Chanticleer Tru from San Francisco recently, where he and band mates Ana Briseno (drums), Peter Condra (guitar) and Brendan Scott (bass) had played the El Rio the night before.
“It’s a full-on rock experience,” says Briseno, who started the group with Condra in 2010.
And while the band is making its first trip to Arkansas this weekend, the members are certainly familiar with a few exports from the Natural State.
Magic Mouth spent a chunk of last year touring with Gossip, the powerhouse dance/rock outfit that features Searcy High School graduates Beth Ditto and Nathan Howdeshell. Also on that tour was country singer Bonnie Montgomery, another Searcy High grad and now a label mate of Magic Mouth’s on Howdeshell’s Fast Weapons imprint.
And it just so happens that Montgomery is opening the Saturday show for Magic Mouth.
“We always envisioned ourselves playing with them,” Tru says of Gossip, which came up in the Portland scene in the late ’90s. “They are a band we have followed and looked up to for a long time, and to become friends with them and share a stage and a mike with Beth, who is an amazing vocalist, was a lot of fun.” So, what’s it like in Portland?
Is every day there like a Portlandia sketch?
“Sometimes,” Tru says with a laugh.
“It’s really supportive,” Briseno says of the city’s musical community. It’s also cheap to live there and also have a practice space. “You see all kinds of musicians. I know so many people who have come to Portland just to play music.” The group is on the road in support of Devil May Care, its new EP and a follow-up to last year’s five-song EP Believer.
Devil May Care is a four song, funky blast of strutting rock ’n’ soul. Amid the booty-shaking funk, though, is the quiet, slow-dance “Mother Lode,” which highlights the band’s more introspective side, with Tru’s falsetto warbling over a sparse beat.
One of the group’s common touchstones is jazz chanteuse and civil rights activist Nina Simone, Briseno says.
“Me and Peter met four years ago and we shared a lot of the same musical interests and we discovered her. We were so in love with her.”
Tru adds, “She is a spiritual guide for the band.”
The final song on Devil is “Speak Softly After Dark (for Nina),” which is a typically funked-up Magic Mouth jam with a sweaty vocal performance from Tru.
The band has also collectively discovered author James Baldwin, whose novels, plays, poems and essays explored not only the black experience in America but also the acceptance of gay life.
Baldwin’s essay collection The Fire Next Time has made a big impression on Magic Mouth, whose members are gay.
“There are so many nuggets of wisdom” in that book, Tru says, “and really powerful things people need to hear.”
Opening act: Bonnie Montgomery 9:30 p.m. Saturday, White Water Tavern, 2500 W. Seventh St., Little Rock (501) 375-8400 whitewatertavern.com
Weekend, Pages 34 on 10/03/2013
Print Headline: High-octane Magic Mouth has grooves to move shoes