Review: The Magic Gang at Engine Rooms, Southampton

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The first of three farewell (for now) shows treated the south coast to a couple of brand new tunes and a smattering of fan-favourites from The Magic Gang within Southampton's secluded Engine Rooms.

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Should we be expecting another wonderful Magic Gang album, so soon after the debut record they released this time last year? Based off interviews, social media teases and February’s “farewell for now” shows in Southampton, Reading and Margate, quite possibly. With the first of those shows, set within Southampton’s rustic but personal Engine Rooms nightclub, the gang treated fans to a motley selection of songs old and new, giving us a taste of what’s to come but also reminding us why we love them so much in the first place.

But first, the venue. Just walking distance from that Southampton Uni sports club fan-favourite venue Oceana, Engine Rooms provides the perfect starting point for any night out on the town. Set – unsurprisingly – within a disused industrial warehouse, there’s a unique awkwardness to the place that contrasts with the cleanness of most music venues that hold an “O2” nametag, yet in a way that’s somewhat endearing. With a low roof, small stage and cosy dancefloor (in which you’re never more than 20 metres from whoever’s performing up-front), the Engine Rooms make for an intensely intimate atmosphere; not one you can particularly rock out to, but one in which the music is felt perhaps most keenly of all.

This all meant for an engrossing warm-up, first from Northern Irish punk act Touts and then from countryman and Radio 1 DJ Phil Taggart. Whilst Touts’ set could get somewhat repetitive in its sound, that’s not to say their stage presence was any less impressive. It’s difficult to come on early and try to energise a crowd who came to see someone else, but with a flashy mix of powerful guitar solos and raucous vocals, Touts certainly did enough to whet our appetites for what was to come later. But before The Magic Gang, we had Phil Taggart, bringing along his years of DJ expertise to sublimely mix together Gorillaz with Nirvana, Jungle with the Jackson 5, and yet get it to sound good. With a minimal gap between Taggart’s set and The Magic Gang taking centre stage, and leaving us with none other than a drum’n’bass remix of ‘Wonderwall’ no less, you could safely say that Phil Taggart left the crowd in the perfect mood to welcome one of the UK’s most exciting up-and-coming indie acts.

With little fanfare, the gang started as they meant to go on with a dramatically personal rendition of 2017 single ‘Alright’. This was not going to be a gig that was high in thrills or drama; rather, The Magic Gang made perfect use of the Engine Rooms’ cosy interior to let their music do the talking in an intensely intimate set that would dazzle not with explosive mosh pits or hectic pyrotechnics but with the gang’s sheer love and talent for their craft. Song after song from their delightful debut was rattled off in devoted fashion, the crowd often invited to sing along to hits like ‘All This Way’ and ‘Caroline’, and with conversation aplenty between frontman Jack Kaye, bassist Angus Taylor, guitarist Kristian Smith and their fans between songs.

This was all leading up to the debut of two brand new songs showcased across the gang’s 45-minute set, the first of which came just a couple tracks in. Almost out of the blue, just as the crowd was reaching fever-pitch following renditions of ‘Alright’, ‘Getting Along’ and ‘Caroline’, Kaye took a step back to say he wanted to try something different. With his guitar in one hand and the keyboard in another, all onus was on Angus Taylor to provide the vocals to this one – alongside a captivating bassline beat that drew in the crowd towards a disciplined yet dramatic crescendo. The other new track was similarly mature, once again taking its time to build towards an utterly cathartic chorus, though perhaps more carefree in its buildup. If The Magic Gang was summertime pressed to vinyl, and these songs are an accurate taste of what’s to come, then album number two will be more of a celebration of everything autumnal.

Celebrating with an encore of recent hit ‘Take Care’ and longtime fan-favourite ‘All That I Want Is You’, The Magic Gang finally left the stage – if their social media is to be believed – “for the last time in a little while”, as they prepare to hunker down and get that much-anticipated second album recorded. But if what they delivered on the south coast at the end of February is anything to go by, any new music will be absolutely worth the wait. At Southampton’s Engine Rooms on February 20th, The Magic Gang once again delivered an emphatically personal evening of tremendously feelgood indie-rock delight.

The Magic Gang’s self-titled debut album is available now via Yala! Records.

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I play/watch/listen to things, then write about playing/watching/listening to things. Special powers include downing two litres of tea at a time and binging a 13-episode Netflix series in only 12 hours. Records Editor 2018/19 OMG

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