– BAND ON THE WALL, MANCHESTER –
Moon Duo obviously realise that their time is now. Their plans for 2017 are to release two halves of a grand, conceptual project: Occult Architecture, Vols. 1 and 2, with each volume representing one half of the Taoist principle of Yin and Yang. Such is the dominance of their whacked out, frazzled psych rock in underground music culture right now that a high-falutin’ idea like that doesn’t even seem that mad anymore.
Volume 1 is already out, dealing with Yin, or the dark side. Anyone who’s seen the San Franciscans before might wonder how much darker they felt they could get, but tonight at Band on the Wall they are like pigs in the proverbial. The duo – axeman Ripley Johnson and key-slayer Sanae Yamada – have been joined by drummer John Jeffrey for this tour, and it’s impossible to imagine them without him. In the absence of live bass, the drums take on both roles to some extent, and in tonight’s most juggernaut-like sections, Jeffrey is at the heart of it.
Counter-intuitively, the set actually starts with Moon Duo’s version of a pop rundown. Their shortest and most accessible tracks (I mean, relatively) are frontloaded: ‘The Death Set’, ‘Cold Fear’ and ‘Creepin’’. There are unescapable traces of melody in all three, Yamada’s keyboard parts are borderline hummable and Johnson’s string-melting fingers are just warming up. Mirrors at the side of stage even start dancing, spraying shards of light around the stage and the front of the crowd, as if to prepare us for what’s next.
The new album is centred around two behemoth tracks, and when the opening blast of the first of them, ‘White Rose’, hits, the mood changes. Johnson’s guitar becomes a flame-thrower, the keys stop twinkling (if they ever did) and the thunderclap drums intensify. Vocals begin to take a back seat, and the band seem to treat them as obstacles anyway. This becomes about creating an extra-sensory experience.
From that moment on, the band have found their groove and cannot be shaken out of it. The longer they play, the more indulgent and intense they get. There is little time for chat between tracks – even fewer words are spoken there than during the songs. Occasionally you catch a glimmer of a smile across one of their faces, but it’s momentary. The main set is concluded with its heaviest track, ‘Cult of Moloch’, finding one or two more skull-crushing levels of destruction.
For an encore, they dip back into their 2011 album Mazes to play ‘Goners’, before launching into a freewheeling version of The Stooges’ ‘No Fun’. It makes perfect sense for Moon Duo to pay their dues to the Detroit icons, who did so much to explore the outer reaches of loose rhythms and ear-splitting guitar scuzzery. As proven by acts from Sex Pistols to The Orb, the song is a great template to desecrate at your will, and Moon Duo reach into every corner of it and leave their stamp.
A Moon Duo gig might be low in unpredictability or variety, but it is a sensory overload. Immersing yourself into its extended psych freakouts is a release, in much the same way that techno can be. It clears your mind, focusing all of your attention on one concentrated, repeating, extreme rhythm. For a period of time, you are relieved of all of your real world problems. It’s cathartic.