With change looming large, Getintothis’ Paul Higham sees Moon Duo breathe new life into their already transfixing live show.
A sense of change seemed to hang heavy in the air at the climax of a thrilling Bank Holiday at The Kazimier. Change in a good way of course.
With Moon Duo taking to the stage as a name-defying threesome it was certainly true of the headline act. The band revelled and excelled in the newly expanded line-up. Of course, all the things we’ve grown to love about them were present and correct.
Ripley Johnson’s reverb-laden guitar swirled and shone with its simplicity unfathomably revealing the complex. As on their latest LP, Shadow of the Sun, the songs suck you in, willing you to lose yourself within their breathless intensity; a creative whirr becoming increasingly more intricate amid his trademark maelstrom of hypnotic noise.
Perched over her synthesiser kit, Sanae Yamada’s vocals, increasingly more prominent with each passing record, reveal a greater sense of confidence. Blending perfectly with the sonic hurricane laid down by Johnson, the vocals and the synth add a layered texture that hints at a boundless freedom often lacking in the guitarist’s other band.
And then there was the light show. And boy what a light show. Intoxicating and trance-inducing it transformed The Kazimier as images projected onto all available surfaces. It was almost 3D and as near as dammit to a hallucinogenic experience without the consumption of illegal substances. And, let’s face it, when the experience is this immersive, why waste money on artificial stimulants?
So, what was different?
If anything, and as previously demonstrated at Psych Fest, the live drummer makes the band sound more like Moon Duo and not less. More natural sounding, yes, but also more metronomic, tighter and crisper. Driven along by a propulsive energy that machine alone seems unable to replicate.
However, there was a marked evolution in their sound. Where once the drummer was reserved for live performances only, his presence on the new record has elevated their live sound to impressive new heights. While remaining far from a pop band, the band seem more energised as songs fizz by with a more danceable edge and the expectant Kazimier crowd more than lapped it up.
Here’s the crux; change can work.
It doesn’t necessarily mean pointless reinvention or issuing a “strictly no banjos” edict. On the contrary, in the right hands it can push a band on to the next level while remaining true to themselves. And if it looks like you’re having a ball at the same time, so much for the better.
Earlier Mind Mountain returned to the stage with a confident new sound. Their set consisted of a single composition played with a frightening and portentous power. Brutal uncompromising and downright heavy, the band brought to mind the bass-led doom of the likes of Om.
Rib-cage rattling rather than ear-splittingly loud, the feeling of a hundred-weight pressing into your chest made for an uneasy experience rich in atmosphere and sonic tension. Relief was offered by the use of synths and the spiralling guitar work that demonstrated ample lightness of touch and highlighted the trio’s understanding of how to build and release tension, remaining always the right side of overbearing.
Opening act TVAM, meanwhile, kicked the night of with an impressive solo set that leant heavily on classic krautrock influences. Accompanied by a visual display on technology seemingly pilfered from a 1980s school classroom, the set could have felt like a low budget Public Service Broadcasting.
What lifted it from the ordinary was the interplay between the music and the video montages and the impressive guitar playing that hinted at a less narrow field of influences. That it was delivered solo was to his credit and that he captured the attention of the expanding crowd eager to slake their thirst at the bar was no mean feat.
Early arrivers were treated to a free late afternoon show in the neighbouring garden. Top of the bill were perhaps one of this year’s surprise packages, Pinkshinyultrablast who emerged from St Petersburg earlier this year with Everything Else Matters, a striking debut LP. Sonically the group owe a considerable debt to the dream-pop and shoegaze sounds of the likes of Lush or The Cocteau Twins.
Somehow they seem able to transcend their well worn influences and, much like near-soundalikes Ballet School, they seem capable of forging their own identity along what has become fairly well-trodden road. Much of the group’s success is owed to Lyubov‘s ethereal vocals which take centre stage and add clarity to the noise around, although this is not music to singalong to as the vocals add texture, becoming as much an instrument as the warring guitars and synths.
Displaying a strong rhythmical intent and incorporating electronic beats into the mix the group do not seem bound by the trappings of the past. On this showing they are a worthy addition to the shoegaze canon, adding something new rather than a tired rehash of what has gone before. They have been added to the line-up at this year’s Liverpool Psych Fest, where they’re sure to go down a storm.
Opening act The Probes belied their youth with a performance of controlled maturity that engaged and enthralled. Reminiscent of the likes of early-era The Fall, there was a welcome and gradual repetition to the best parts of their set. Like all good bands, sometimes locking into a terrific groove when backed by a tight but unfussy rhythm section is where it’s at.
What was most striking was their poise and control, understanding when to hold back and let the music ratchet up the tension and intrigue. It’s a sign of good band and a confident band. These lads are just that so make sure you look them up at this year’s Sound City.
In a little over a few months time the landscape of Liverpool’s live music scene will change, irrevocably so. Our much-cherished venue that is so much more than bricks and mortar will be no more.
While no one can deny that The Kazimier is a unique space that encourages performance like none other, as Moon Duo have perhaps demonstrated change can also reenergise, revitalise and unify. Let’s enjoy these final month of shows while also embracing the power of change for the better.
Photos by Getintothis‘ Keith Ainsworth.