Synthwave heavy-hitters Magic Sword and Dance With the Dead are wrapping up their co-headliner North American tour in Washington state, playing Lucky You Lounge on Saturday night before finishing up in Seattle on Sunday.
Since 2013, both Magic Sword and Dance With the Dead have made a name for themselves by combining epic, danceable and multi-layered synthesizer soundscapes with a punchy rock edge. In a scene dominated primarily by laptop DJs, watching these trios jam onstage with actual instruments is a breath of fresh air.
While the nature of their sound and stage presence makes both bands somewhat niche, they have celebrated notable victories – Dance With the Dead’s latest album, “Driven to Madness,” broke into iTunes’ top three electronic albums upon release, and Magic Sword’s songs have been featured in the video game Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number and the official trailer for the hit film “Thor: Ragnarok.”
Putting their own spin on the “wall of synthesizers” sound popularized by 1980s film scores – and in more recent history, “Stranger Things” – these bands manage to be retro and fresh at the same time. “Mixing cinematic synth music from my childhood with dance music, I arrogantly thought I had come up with a new genre,” said the Keeper, the frontman and lead songwriter for Magic Sword, a Boise-based band.
“Then I got on SoundCloud and realized there’s this guy named Lazerhawk who’s already been doing it for five years!” he said. “But I talked to him – Lazerhawk is an awesome dude. I honestly thought I had come up with a unique idea, but I didn’t – which is great because there’re so many great musicians out there.”
Dance With the Dead and Magic Sword announced their 2020 co-headliner tour in late 2019, and such was their confidence going into it that Magic Sword chose to release their new album “Endless” on the first day of the tour – March 27, 2020. As we all know, March 2020 was not a great time for the entertainment industry – or anyone else, for that matter.
“We were pretty excited, so when it got canceled, it was a mixture of emotions,” the Keeper said. “You’re devastated, but you also feel guilty for focusing on petty things – because people are dying.”
“We’re not a huge band,” he said. “We had ordered many thousands of dollars of merchandise for the tour, and we just sat on it for a while – but we depend on that income.” When Magic Sword realized that the COVID-19 pandemic was a persistent one, the merch was posted for sale online and quickly sold out.
The fanbase for synthwave is anything but large, but it’s dedicated. It’s no surprise that such an image-forward band who distributes full-blown comic books to coincide with album releases managed to push the merch regardless of the tour’s cancellation. Fast forward two years, and Magic Sword and Dance With the Dead finally rallied the troops to embark on a breakneck-speed tour to make up for lost time.
“This has been a tough tour – really, really tough,” the Keeper said. “I think we’re trying to subconsciously make up for lost dates, so there’s not a lot of days off.” Thirty-nine shows in 53 days is no joke – one stint in early April forced the bands to perform seven days in a row before taking just one day off and then doing it all over again.
To top it off, the Keeper attributes extra stress to co-headlining. “Each band has full-production and headliner needs. We’ve been friends with Dance With the Dead for a while – communication is excellent,” he said. “If I was doing this with another band I didn’t know, there’d probably be some fights. I’ll pick friendship over musicianship every time on the road.”
Thankfully, Magic Sword didn’t have to choose this time. I attended their performance in Austin on April 30. Both bands are more than capable of delivering exhilarating shows with soaring synths, blistering guitar solos and crushing drum beats while lights flash and pulse intoxicatingly above and behind the two trios.
Not quite a rock show, not quite an electronic show, synthwave occupies a unique space between the two, and it’s not something to be missed. Co-headliners Magic Sword and Dance With the Dead with guest Droid Bishop headline Lucky You Lounge on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $20.
Riordan Zentler can be reached at email@example.com.
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