An enthusiastic crowd packed the outdoor space of the Belmont on a chilly Friday night to celebrate “CirQlation.” the debut full-length release from Austin’s live band hip-hop act, and Austin360 February Artist of the Month, Magna Carda.
Magna Carda burst onto the scene a few years back as a hip-hop outfit that just happened to have a backing band. In the early days their shows were rich with potential, but somewhat disjointed. It’s striking how rapidly they’ve grown into a powerful and cohesive unit.
Their new album smoothly bridges the worlds of hip-hop and jazz at a moment in time when jazzy hip-hop is enjoying a huge resurgence, thanks to artists like Kendrick Lamar, Ghostface Killah and Flying Lotus. But balancing a laid-back jazz vibe with hip-hop hype can be tricky. This is something the band has clearly considered when structuring their shows. They know which tracks are bangers and strategically place them throughout their set.
They opened the show on Friday with the blazing, soon-to-be hit “Southern Ether.” Last year the band took their first real road trip to California. Their soundtrack for the trip was trap music and jazz and “Southern Ether” blends the two vibes beautifully into a sound they call “trap soul.” The Belmont crowd went nuts for it.
Likewise, their closer, “Angela Bassett” was bananas. The crowd went insane, with a good portion of the front section shouting along to every word. In between, there was a nice balance of hot spots and more introverted, mellower moments with just a few stray instrumental forays that veered dangerously close to jam band territory.
Inexplicably, the band is not an official South by Southwest act this year. “We actually just received our “denied” email for SXSW for the fourth year in a row,” keyboardist/beat wizard Chris Beale a.k.a. Dougie Do said late last month.
It’s hard to believe a group with such fantastic energy, an incredibly listenable catalog that includes a standout new album, and a good portion of the city at their back, didn’t warrant a place among the 2,000 or so bands who will showcase, but that’s how it shakes out sometimes.
The band isn’t losing sleep over it. The last week in March they’re off for a Pacific Northwest tour that launches with a showcase at Boise, Idaho’s Treefort Festival on the same bill as Aesop Rock and Oddisee.
My prediction: Magna Carda is going to spend the better part of the year touring hard and they’ll quickly work out any kinks in their set. When they storm back into town after a few road jaunts they will totally blow our minds.