Even magicians not named Criss Angel are kind of like rock stars, aren’t they? They mesmerize us onstage and often evoke a certain seductiveness while doing so. They tend to wear a lot of black and have a particular sort of rhythm to their performances.
It’s no wonder L.A. native Rob Zabrecky has risen among the magical masses to become a favorite around town. Zabrecky was the driving force behind the popular Silver Lake band Possum Dixon, and though that group’s disappearing act occurred several years ago, music is still a big part of this performer’s life and his shows.
His one-person variety show, The Zabrecky Hour, conjures up a mix of illusion and musicality this Saturday at Trepany House, and it’s a must-see for fans of atmospheric, edgy yet nostalgic entertainment. “It’s been evolving over the past five years with the basic theme of seeing beauty in the darkness,” says Zabrecky, who incorporates a punk, almost goth-y ambience into the proceedings via props, sonic touches and his inimitably droll demeanor.
“I incorporate songs into The Zabrecky Hour on an as-needed basis,” says the Burbank-bred entertainer. “Sometimes it’s a Lou Reed, Blondie or Suicide cover, other times it’s a '30s classic like 'Paper Moon.' At this weekend's show I’m collaborating with magician and harpist Tina Lenert.”
While transitioning from music, Zabrecky became interested in the idea of personal reinvention, creating an entirely new persona for the stage. His magician “character” expands upon the dark humor hinted at in his music, and it works well with his mentalist-based magic, a nuanced style that substitutes Vegas-y spectacle for a more cerebral presentation, incorporating classic magic techniques and sleight of hand.
“After being in a band for 10 years, I’d had enough,” he says. “One of the big differences between magic and music is the community and culture that surrounds them. Rock clubs are much different places than, say, the Magic Castle or a magic festival in Scotland or Japan. They are similar in that they are both art forms I love and are avenues of self-expression. I learned how to write and perform songs from being in a band, and I’ve since learned how to write for a character I perform as. From a writer’s perspective, there’s no difference between magic and music, but the presentation couldn’t be more different.”
Music and magic also make great bedfellows at the invite-only parties known as Brookledge Follies, which Zabrecky helps helm.
“Around seven years ago, my wife and I began collaborating with Erika Larsen, the daughter of two of the three founders of the Magic Castle, putting on variety shows in an antique theater located in the backyard of her family home in Hancock Park,” he explains. “We rounded up some of our favorite musicians, magicians and comedians and put on shows that we felt were provocative and interesting. They’ve become quite a sensation in L.A., partially because you can’t buy a ticket.”
At a recent Brookledge event I attended, they celebrated the city of Los Angeles with astounding mind trickery and some strange but mesmerizing music covers including The Go-Go’s' “This Town,” and Danny Elfman's “Pico and Sepulveda” from the Forbidden Zone soundtrack. Zabrecky hosted, while noted keyboardist/music director Kristian Hoffman provided the keys, and others from the Magic Castle family offered their own quirky tricks and routines, and Puddles the Clown closed the show with an intense vocal showstopper. Brookledge is like nothing else in the city, old-timey yet fresh, a speakeasy-ish thing that’s all about atmosphere and the unique talents of the people onstage. Like the Magic Castle in Hollywood (which is also invite-only), entering it conjures something from another place and time.
Zabrecky has been a member of the Academy of Magical Arts at the Magic Castle since 1998. “I work in all of its showrooms and do most of my socializing there,” he says. “I’ve made some great friends there and have embraced it as my sort of home-away-from-home.”
But what about Possum Dixon, the band that put him on the map in L.A.? Many here still remember him as the singer-songwriter and bassist for the group, which released three albums on Interscope Records during the 1990s, and was a fixture at clubs around town like Raji’s, Spaceland and Jabberjaw.
“I don’t miss being in a band. Sometimes I look back on our early days, around 1989 to 1993, and I'm reminded that it was an exciting time,” he says. “To me, [Possum Dixon] was the last wave of underground music before alternative music became a mainstream thing. Once in a while I play live music for kicks, but I don’t take it too serious. A while back I recorded an EP with my friend Kenny Woods [Beck, That Dog] and with any luck it will see the light of day next year.”
In the meantime, Zabrecky’s inspired cabaret shows will surely continue to pull new ideas and music-inspired illusions out of his figurative hat. When it comes to magic, Zabrecky's talent is no trick.
THE ZABRECKY HOUR | Trepany House at the Steve Allen Theater, 4773 Hollywood Blvd., Los Feliz | Saturday, Nov. 5, 8 p.m. | $18 | trepanyhouse.org
Los Angeles native Lina Lecaro has been covering L.A. nightlife since she started as a teen intern at L.A. Weekly (fake ID in tow) nearly two decades ago. She went on to write her own column, “Nightranger,” for the print edition of the Weekly for six years. Read her “Lina in L.A.” interviews for the latest nightlife news, and follow her on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
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