It takes a committed Philly concertgoer to get to a gig on a Sunday night in November when the air is windy and the temperature is under 45 degrees. That’s the crowd Magdalena Bay draws, though. This weekend fans of the Los Angeles electronic pop duo packed the revered Spring Garden Street venue Union Transfer — which, sure, had a somewhat reduced capacity with the stage being pulled all the way up…but packed nonetheless — and they were ready to dance, jump, and laugh to uplifting songs about the human condition and outrunning existential dread.
Comprised of singer-songwriter Mica Tenenbaum and multi-instrumentalist Matthew Lewin, along with live drummer Nick Villa, the band slowly built its rep and found its audience through a string of singles, EPs and mixtapes dating back to 2019 before dropping last year’s brilliant debut LP MercurialWorld. By that point, Magdalena Bay had amassed enough of a following that it collected voicemail “secrets” from its devotees — messages from “I’m in love with my best friend” to “I’m a time-traveler” — and those clips form the connective tissue of the album, which bounces between an array of expertly-executed electronic music aesthetics, from city pop to chillwave, delightful disco to distorted 8-bit.
All of that was on display Sunday at Union Transfer, following a vibrant set from Brooklyn opener Bayli (whose own music hit on styles like hooky R&B and hard house / club tones). With the stage stripped of most instruments and lit up with dazzling projections — imagery ranging from retro computer graphics grids to Tenenbaum and Lewin’s memojis cutely dancing along — there was ample space for Magdalena Bay to move around and occupy its platform, and to engage with the audience from the front to the back.
Like Mercurial World, the show moved practically in continuous mix mode, “Dawning Of The Season” slipping right into “Secrets,” which grooved into the bouncy “Hysterical Us.” Breaks were provided by projections of Chaeri, the band’s mascot: a faux AI entity that yearns to be human and is fascinated by humanity’s aforemetioned secrets. Tenenbaum bantered with Chaeri about emotions and feelings, about the act of dancing and the idea of shared joy, then launched into songs, sashaying from side to side of the ample stage floor and occasionally offering quips to rev up the excitement in the room.
If there was a shortcoming in the show, it was in these moments: with such a locked-in set on the tech side, her bits of banter had little space for authenticity; she could have speaking to any crowd, in any city. While there’s something to be said for being “on” and playing the role of this mercurial traveler leading her friends — flesh and blood as well as algorithmic — through time and space, it’s an odd energy for a production that’s ultimately centered around the idea of what it means to be human.
But that’s where the crowd came in, whether they were raising their hands on the dancefloor rager “How To Get Physcial,” stomping to the despondent catharsis of “You Lose,” or literally leaping in elation as the night closed with an absolutely killer performance of “The Beginning.” It was as the last notes rung out that Tenenbaum let her facade drop; this show was truly a thrill, she told everyone, especially since she lived in Philly for four years while studying at the University of Pennsylvania. Union Transfer was a favorite spot back then, and headlining Sunday night was special…one imagines it was especially with this room of fervent followers warming up to her and one another.
Check out photos of the show in the gallery below, beginning with Bayli’s set.