The Magic Gang, Friday 4 October, Green Door Store, Brighton

“We’re so happy to be back playing here in our spiritual home!” beams Jack Kaye, singer/guitarist with The Magic Gang to tonight’s capacity crowd at the Green Door Store – a reminder for many of us lucky enough to have grabbed a ticket, that we’ve come full circle.

The venue is tucked away underneath Brighton train station, giving it the feel of an illicit speakeasy or secret den. There are no buffers separating the fans from bands here, making it a proving ground for performers, and great for punters seeking that “authentic live experience”. Having become an essential port of call for every act generating a buzz, the Green Door is regarded as the city’s answer to New York’s legendary CBGBs. Tonight is a homecoming of sorts for the Magic Gang, who used to live together, like a 21st century incarnation of the Monkees, only a stone’s throw away on Grand Parade. Much has happened for them in the last year, with the release of their debut album, followed by extensive touring to support it. I first witnessed their magic for myself at the Green Door back in December 2013, when the band supported the Jacuzzi Boys.

Perched on the three-foot stage in high-fiving distance of the crowd, Jack, Kris, Gus and Paeris won the crowd over with their instantly hummable set of Weezer-indebted slacker rock. In the years since, they’ve returned here again and again (a Bushmills-sponsored tour, the Great Escape Festival), gradually dialing down that distortion knob to reveal what was always there underneath the fuzz: pure pop. Kicking things off tonight is 2018 single Getting Along, a song whose clanging opening chord unapologetically pilfers from the Beatles’ Hard Day’s Night. When Jack and fellow singer/guitarist Kris lean in to share the mic, it’s just the icing on the Lennon/McCartney cake.

The Radio 1 darlings sold out Brighton’s infinitely larger Concorde II last year, so it’s a surprise to be back here watching them from the cobbledy stone floor of the Store. But this gig is essentially to road test new material, and it’s clear the band want to do so on friendly ground. The hour-long set serves up four new songs, destined for release on the band’s second album, due next year. What Have I Got to Lose? allows bassist Gus to sing lead, and hints at a slightly darker and gnarly sound. Despite the name, it’s Death of the Party that suggests the outlook remains sunny and bright (and admittedly a bit like Teenage Fanclub). The new songs go down well, with no detectable shuffling-off to the bar, but it’s the old favourites the crowd goes wild for. All This Way, Your Love, Slippin, Alright... these are songs that speak of vulnerability, introspection and romantic hesitation, yet they are delivered with such catchy major-chord melodies as to become football terrace anthems. Fittingly, Gus has come wearing his East Brighton Wanderers shirt - the Sunday league side he plays for - while the rest of the band sport the baggy tees and ill-fitting suits that have become their anti-look.

Despite just having returned from their first dates in the US, they remain resolutely un rock-starish. Their effusive manner belies those long months on the road, and drummer Paeris soldiers on through their set, despite the news that he’s spent the day throwing up. With curfew fast approaching, the band launches into How Can I Compete?, prompting a crowd surge that threatens to tip over onto the stage. Bringing the party to a close is All That I Want Is You, a paean to Beach Boy Brian Wilson, whose shout-along chorus “Oh Brian won’t you come out” can probably be heard by man himself in his Malibu bolthole. The gig over, it’s time for the Magic Gang to mingle with friends old and new. They may not all live here anymore, and they might now be playing gigs all over the world, but somehow they’ll always be the boys next door.
JAMIE HEALY

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