Would someone unfamiliar with the guys in the band find Magnum entertaining? Laugh at Terrence's antics, express amazement over his falsetto? Would he or she notice how seriously Bohner takes his drumming, note the fun Steve S. has on bass? Would someone who doesn't know Deric Mendes recognize the irony in his guitar playing? Or would the whole thing scream mid-life crisis?
These are the questions that arose Saturday night at the Alibi while inadvertently splashing whiskey among the enthused mob packed into the performance corner of the bar. Seriously, can an ad guy and a former local rock heavyweight really recruit a couple good-looking 20-somethings into a band spawned from a shared fondness for Judas Priest and be anything but a punch line?
Yes, they can.
This epiphany occurred about 15 minutes into the "Mission Accomplished" George W. Bush-tribute show as Magnum ripped through Pat Benatar's "Heartbreaker" with Universalia Jane leaning in to roar out the chorus. ("You're a ...") Terrence McNally, best known as Arcata Eye ad guy and stellar photographer, can not only work a crowd without any trace of self-consciousness, but can hold a high note so long it's a wonder the Alibi wasn't ankle-deep in shattered glassware. His frontman persona comes off like a graduate from the school of David Lee Roth with a major in Country Dick Montana.
Meanwhile, Steve Bohner, best known for his long stint in The Hitch, plays straight man on drums -- Magnum may be funny, but Bohner's not messing around. That's key, because none of this would work if the music sucked.
But Magnum truly is a musicians' band: The crowd included not only Jane, but Mike Wilson (The Cutters, Dynamite Sweater), Pablo Midence (Dragged by Horses), Ryan Cook (The Letdown), Matt Jackson (thelittlestillnotbigenough) and, post-his-own-Van-Duzer performance, Loudon Wainwright III.
True, Loudon was only there to meet Arcata's own superstar singer-songwriter Lila Nelson, herself a devout Magnum fan, who emerged from a cardboard "bomb shell" for a Sarah Palin-esque rendition of "Shock and Awe." Confusing? Check. Surreal? Utterly. Did it work? You betcha.
Sure, much of Magnum's popularity stems from the in-crowd factor of the players, but they've gained lasting affection because they are just so damn happy to rock you.
Earlier, Side Iron warmed the place up with a set reminiscent of the Southern rock stylings of Drive-by Truckers and The Hold Steady. Imagine walking into a darkened, semi-dingy bar, sitting down and ordering a whiskey from a bartender who could care less about your problems. Side Iron sounds exactly like the band that should be playing in that bar, invoking nostalgia and colored in the same warm sepia as the Maker's Mark I prefer. If you're of like mind, check ’em out Thursday, Feb. 19, at the Pearl Lounge with Or, the Whale.