Words by: Andrew Berry | Images by: Rob Shaffer
Moon Hooch :: 05.11.12 :: Knitting Factory :: Brooklyn, NY
Photo gallery below review!
As I made my way into Brooklyn’s Knitting Factory to see up-and-coming trio Moon Hooch on a warm Friday night, I couldn’t help but feel the anticipation for the possibilities that lay ahead. This was my second time seeing the band so I had an idea of what lay in store, but I’ve also learned that there are no guarantees. On this evening, the question was simple: What happens when you combine two saxophonists, one drummer, and a couple hundred rabid fans primed to go off inside a crowded, sweaty club?
|Moon Hooch by Rob Shaffer|
I soon got my answer as the trio launched into their set. Saxophonists Wenzl McGowen and Mike Wilbur leaned into their instruments like athletes at game time as drummer James Muschler came in with a steady, pulsing beat, and we were off at the races. Right from the start, it was obvious that dance music flows through the veins of this band. You can hear it in the rhythms, you can feel it in the dynamics between the players, but most importantly, you can see it in the reaction of the crowd. Moon Hooch had them eating out of the palm of their hand from the word “go.” I use the word “dance” music with a caveat, as this wasn’t the normal experience you’d find checking out the Tiëstos and David Guettas of the world. The band has a natural, organic feel to it that completely resonated with the sold-out crowd at Knitting Factory.
As they performed songs off their debut album, The Moon Hooch Album, I was struck by the sheer amount of volume the band generated. Between two tenor saxophones (and the occasional contrabass clarinet) and one drummer, these guys make a hell of a racket. McGowen and Wilbur have a symbiotic relationship onstage, constantly glancing at one another, each encouraging the other to push the music to greater heights as they fed off the energy of the crowd. One gets the sense that these two could probably tackle any genre convincingly. All that said, however, drummer James Muschler might just be the secret weapon in this outfit. His hard, tough beats were executed with almost military-like precision, helping the music and crowd reach a critical mass before exploding into a frenzy that would challenge even the most jaded among us not to get down. If McGowen and Wilbur are the icing on the cake, Muschler is the bones and guts of this thing.
Moon Hooch has a very particular sound, but they didn’t mind stretching out into other genres. I heard shades of metal, jazz, even a little dubstep for the kids as the group alternated between pure dance stompers like “#9”, “Song for Miguel” and “Low 4” and extended instrumental workouts which caused the crowd erupt into a “Moon Hooch! Moon Hooch! Moon Hooch!” chant. And yet, even with the technical prowess happening onstage, I got the distinct feeling of a D.J. set. Believe me, this is no slight. Some of my favorite live music moments have occurred with a D.J. at the wheels of steel. On this night at the Knitting Factory songs were teased, built up, and brought down again, only to come back full force. It’s obvious these guys are learning the fine art of controlling the crowd.
|Moon Hooch by Rob Shaffer|
In any case, things truly got shaken up when they brought out vocalist Alena Spanger for a few songs. What would the band sound like with a singer in their midst? Pretty good, as it turns out. Her soft, trip hop-like vocals provided an interesting contrast to the sound being generated around her. It was a huge risk that paid off big time for the band, and the crowd ate it up and connected with the temporary singer. This was “Cave Music” with elegance!
Being that this was the second time I had seen the band, there were a few subtle differences in how they conducted themselves onstage. There was an unmistakable air of confidence as the band ripped through their tunes. These guys just completed their first national tour, with more dates to come in late May. If I were a betting man, I’d say the sheer joy and excitement of hitting the road for the first time carried over into their Knitting Factory gig.
Simply put, Moon Hooch is a band on the rise. From New York City’s Union Square subway stop where the band got their start to selling out shows at the Knitting Factory in Brooklyn, I got a sense that this is only the beginning. That feeling I talked about earlier? It’s the anticipation of possibly being in on something unique. As their journey continues, I have no doubt that the dance floor will continue to get more and more packed.
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