Moon Duo Color Outside the Lines at Rough Trade NYC

March 10th, 2015

Moon Duo – Rough Trade NYC – March9, 2015

The first thing most will notice and likely joke about when seeing Moon Duo live is that they are, indeed, a trio. Playing before a packed Rough Trade NYC last night, the Wooden Shjips spin-off proved that they’re willing to color outside the proverbial lines in more ways than just redefining what a duo is. The band—Ripley Johnson on guitar, Sanae Yamada on keys and John Jeffrey on drums—took the stage beneath a wash of multihued horizontal lines dancing on the screen behind them. Except the projections actually extended well beyond the apportioned white screen, stretching almost around onto the side walls, pulling the entire room into the musical chaos happening onstage. Working almost in silhouette against the flickering lights, the trio churned at full volume, looping drumbeats providing a foundation for psychedelia highlighted by synthesizer organ and electronica.

Moon Duo are a band that longs to be heard live. And while their set largely featured material from the recently released Shadow of the Sun, the songs were just the black outline for the music to quickly jag out from. Vocals felt like a murmured suggestion and the melodies some sort of fevered surf-y doo-wop. Before long, Johnson was deep in a relentless solo, streaks of Crayola guitar licks filling the page. Those guitar jams took on many forms, from lightning staccato licks to more soaring drawn-out hallucinations. These sections lasted just a bit longer than they had to and then as if on some hidden cue, they would end to make room for the next. While the band lacked a bassist, the low end was omnipresent through a combination of drums and synths and guitar drone. Jeffery’s bass drum was a constant paranoid telltale heart, seemingly pounding up through the floor.

But perhaps the most surprising thing about Moon Duo’s live set was just how danceable it was. While the guitars continued to go extraterrestrial, the rhythms remained rooted, providing a beat that had most of the packed crowd moving. Of course, in the nonconformist spirit of the music, the audience proved there were many ways to dance to it, including not at all. And after an intense set of breaking the mold, it was kind of impressive that Moon Duo ended their last jam exactly an hour after starting. But those in the still-hypnotized crowd clamored for more, and they were obliged, the Duo that’s a trio laying down a ten-minute encore featuring “Animal” and plenty of scribbling chaos for good measure. —A. Stein | @Neddyo