We talk about CMJ. "[It's] one of the only things on our bucket list we haven't done," Cunningham deadpans, "along with a bungee jump show." They seem excited — the closest thing they can compare it to at this point is South by Southwest, which they played in a previous incarnation. Remembering how one blog described the group as "a noticeably drunk Magic Bullets," they begin to theorize on the relationship between alcohol and performance. Cunningham looks embarrassed and says, "Maybe we shouldn't be talking about this."
While the whole band is quick to be self-effacing, Cunningham appears to be the most self-critical. On Magic Bullets' MySpace page, a link to the Pitchfork review of its recent album is accompanied by the mood "weird" and an eye-rolling smiley. When I bring it up, Cunningham is eager to talk about it. "That was a weird one, right?" he says. "Did you notice that they gave us a good number? But you wouldn't think they liked us at all if you read what they wrote." He has a point. The number is decent (7.2) and the reviewer doesn't really say a whole lot. Yet the reviewer accuses the band of ripping a riff within its song "Pretend & Descend" straight from the Smiths' "Bigmouth Strikes Again."
Cunningham denies this. Even going back to listen to the song, he says he can't hear the resemblance, and I don't press it because, personally, I don't either. What's likely worse than the accusation of plagiarism (which puts Magic Bullets in the fine company of the Flaming Lips, Elastica, and Joe Meek), is accusing the band of sounding like the Smiths, a familiar reference in writing about the band.
"I don't think its a bad comparison," Cunningham says. "I think it's just sort of a shallow comparison because there are so many other influences that are a little more noticeable. You know that song "Lying Around"? We were listening to this song called "My Old Piano" that Chic played on. It's a Diana Ross song. If you listen, it has a rhythmic sensibility. That sounds closer [to "Pretend & Descend"] to me than any Smiths song."
These points of reference have their use, but they also have their limits. During a Magic Bullets show at the Knockout earlier in the year, a girl mentioned to me that they sounded like, surprise, the Smiths, only to immediately begin discussing Robert Smith. The band was on point, working the crowd into a frenzy that mirrored Benson's ecstatic dancing as he circled around the crowded stage, singing longing lyrics about relationships that had gone awry for no good reason. Right then, surface similarities didn't matter and the costs of a practice space seemed worth it. The most important thing with a band like Magic Bullets is that they keep giving it a shot.
Dec. 10, 9 p.m.; call for price
3223 Mission, SF