WHITHER THE POOR bass player? Judging by recent indie top 10s, the four-string creature just may be headed the way of the dodo. With a glut of high-profile two- and three-piece bands (White Stripes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the Kills), a fleshed-out rhythm section no longer seems a necessity but an indulgence. Et tu, Magic Magicians? So far, the answer is yes, but the Seattle-Portland duo hates to say never.
Magic Magicians Cobra High, Charming Snakes, Asahi Graceland, 206-381-3094, $7 6 p.m. (all ages) and 10 p.m. (21-plus) Sat., June 7
"It's not completely out of the question," laughs drummer Joe Plummer. "Maybe we'll audition people at Guitar Center, like Limp Bizkit." Singer/vocalist John Atkins seems happy to keep an even number, however: "We're a streamlined futuristic touring machine. We know how to do it, and we do it in a car." Which, he says, is "so great, because you don't look like a band to a cop, you don't look like a band to a car thiefyou're undercover."
Besides, both men have already done time in larger, bass-friendly bands. Plummer is currently with Black Heart Procession, San Diego's kings of funereal rock, and Aktins recently ended a seven-year run with beloved locals 764-HERO.
The tight twosome met nearly a decade ago, and it shows in the easy way they finish each other's sentences and laugh at half-cocked inside jokes. "We were just acquaintances at first," says Atkins. "We'd go to the same hardcore shows at the Party Hall [a defunct Central District venue]. Positive Greed, Treepeople, Christ on a Crutch, that kind of stuff. . . . We spent a lot of time trading mix tapes, driving around . . . "
"Almost every Sunday for two years," interjects Plummer.
"Just listening to music, exploring Seattle, and trying to come up with the perfect soundtrack for that exploration," continues Atkins.
Eventually, countless afternoons spent "playing acoustic guitar and singing funny songs in the living room" led to more committed efforts. "The thing that kind of kicked it into gear to make the first record happen," explains Atkins, "was that Joe was moving to L.A. [two years later, he would relocate to Portland], so we had been recording here and there, and I was like, 'Well, if you're leaving, let's do some basic tracks for some songs I can work on when you're gone.' So we tracked the bulk of Girls right before he moved."
THE RESULTING DISC, released in 2001 on Suicide Squeeze, was a buoyant, ridiculously hummable m鬡nge of tracks that somehow managed to marry indie-rock smarts with major AOR radio hooks. Produced on the fly by friends (including Plummer's girlfriend, Janet Weiss of Sleater-Kinney and Quasi) and recorded on a dollar-store budget, Girls was nevertheless received with more than the usual "side project" ennui; many Black Heart and Hero devotees appreciated the lighter, poppier path the Magicians trod, while newcomers, many of them Quasi and Helio Sequence fans who caught the band as an opening tour act, simply liked their shaggy accessibility.
As to the sound of their new self- titled disc, the duo isn't ashamed to cite a laundry list of seminal influences: "Billy Childish, reggae, Minutemen, Captain Beefheart," Plummer ticks off on his hand. "Lots of SST bands we've always listened to those bands, but we kind of had a recent personal revival." Though Plummer admits he enjoys the looser aesthetic of their collaboration"the greater creative freedom, the drumming freedom"he's loath to use the dreaded S-word to describe what they do. "The idea of it being a side project is OK between the two of us," he muses, "but when 'side project' is written down and someone reads it, it kind of takes some of the importance out of it, and this band is really important to us. It's not lacking anything."
"I think we're just super-big music fans," concludes Atkins. "That's the whole point, just to make music for the love of music, isn't it?" Indeed, even a legion of underemployed bass players would have to agree.