LIVE REVIEW: Magic City Hippies @ The Regent

Magic City Hippies at The Regent (photo by Ashley Prillaman)

“What kind of music was that?” my husband asked as we left The Regent on a Saturday night. We had just finished watching Magic City Hippies perform for the second time (the first at the That Tent during Bonnaroo 2019). I scrolled over to Spotify and found the band’s self-written description: “a mosaic of poolside grooves and lingering, sun-kissed melodies.” That, we agreed, was an accurate description.

Miami boys to the root, the band started on the streets of the “Magic City;” Robby Hunter had been performing as a one-man-with-a-guitar-and-a-loop-pedal band, but after meeting Pat Howard (drums) and John Coughlin (guitar) at a local haunt the Barracuda Bar in Coconut Grove, a trio was formed. Originally called The Robby Hunter Band, they performed ’90s rock and hip hop covers before hitting it big with 2015’s Hippie Castle EP; the EP led to a successful tour with bands like Hippo Campus and Moon Taxi, laying the groundwork for 2019’s LP Modern Animal.

The Regent has been home to some of my favorite nights out in Los Angeles. The crowd was already pretty thick for openers The Palms and unlike some shows where the crowd merely tolerates the opener, the audience was behind them from the first licks of “Future Love (We All Make Mistakes).” A duo comprised of Los Angeles natives Johnny Zambetti and Ben Rothbard, The Palms brought both swagger and swag (Zambetti paid homage to Kobe Bryant with a jersey draped across an amp) to the stage. The set was tight, with even the bouncer bopping his head along to Zambetti’s vocals, a bit of an Alt-J invocation at times, but clearly influenced by iconic Cali locales, with songs like “Beach Daze,” “Sunset Strip,” and “Mulholland Dr.” “Levitate” ended the set with a perfect shot of melancholy hope: “All these thing that they told me / Used to mold me / But that’s the old me / We’re going straight to the stars / ‘Cuz that’s who we are.”

The Palms (photo by Ashley Prillaman)

Magic City Hippies started their set in the dark and with the first beats of “Spice,” the party began. Robby Hunter has the kind of bravado one often finds at country music shows: he’s relaxed, confident, and clearly enjoys the music he’s making. It’s a rare treat to watch a band that seems equally into playing their b-sides as their singles. “Franny” was the first song that got the crowd seriously groovin’; a woman in front of me was sliding around in sneakers and a neon jumpsuit.

“How many lives are you gonna let expire / How many sparks of love have died in vain / How many nights will it take ’til you grow tired / Hunting the one that got away,” Hunter sings sweetly on “Limestone” (my tried-and-true favorite). Vocal manipulation is a mainstay throughout Magic City Hippies’ music and is sometimes jarring to hear in a live setting. At times, the effect was a little too auto-tune-tastic for my taste; at best, the manipulation created a distinct flavor that separated songs from each other. As with many great bands, the Hippies music has a feel to it, a vibe that’s altogether their own. So the occasional vocal change-up on songs like “What Would I Do” were refreshing.

“We are here for one reason and one reason only and that’s to mother fucking party with you!” Hunter shouted into the crowd midway through the set. The group didn’t shy away completely from their cover band past, covering Anderson .Paak’s “Make It Better” and Travis Scott’s “Goosebumps.” The band doesn’t rest; there were no water breaks or long stories. From drummer Pat Howard’s relentless beats to Hunter’s occasional Sprechgesang, the band members never let up, understanding that this a paid performance and the audience is going get what they came for: the funk. I left wanting to revisit 2019’s Modern Animal… and will admit that it’s been on heavy rotation for the last few days now. With two MCH shows under my belt, I’ll be front row and center the next time they make their way back to the City of Angels.

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