John Vanderslice celebrated the three-year anniversary of Magik*Magik Orchestra on Friday by performing two dazzling sets backed by the 30-piece ensemble and choir at the Herbst Theater. To say it was magical is an understatement. To say it was Magik*Magik-al is pretty much on point.
Vanderslice released White Wilderness six months ago, and though he has toured on the album as a duo (alongside drummer Jason Slota), he had not yet performed the record as it was written and recorded — while being backed by Magik*Magik Orchestra under the direction of Minna Choi.
Having the opportunity to perform the album as intended on a platform as great as the Herbst Theater must have been as thrilling to execute as it was to watch such a feat being pulled off with such grace and charm. It is no secret that John Vanderslice could possibly be the sweetest man in show business, and he was certainly giddy as he sailed through each song, stopping along to way to express his gratitude and comment upon the amazing musicianship of the orchestra.
He introduced everyone by name and occasionally called upon players to perform some of his favorite lines solo to ensure the audience could fully appreciate how each of their individual parts worked within the larger arrangements. The sincerity of his admiration flowed through the packed theater and the audience erupted into applause after each piece ended.
Minna Choi sat in the choir, stage right, conducting the 30 players, leading the choral arrangements, and beaming from ear to ear. It was truly moving to witness each song unfold in such an amazing environment. It felt exclusive, as if we were in on something spectacular and all the cars whizzing by on Van Ness were losing. We were the champions of the evening.
The two sets were over in what felt like the blink of an eye and the reality that this was unique, singular and had concluded began to sink in slowly. It is rare to see artists like Choi take such compositional risks, just as it is rare to see artists like Vanderslice give up control and writing credit to another person, but these risks obviously paid off in the highest degree.
Herbst Theater was nothing short of utopian on Friday, and as I walked off down Van Ness with string arrangements buzzing in my ears I felt fully transformed. I do hope they will consider a repeat performance before too long as this was too great to let fade away into the majestic night.