Visiting Manchester’s Band on the Wall for a sold out show early on in their quick-fire European tour, in which they’re playing 22 shows in nearly as many days, Moon Duo filled the venue with a psychedelic sound so rich you almost couldn’t believe it was coming from just three musicians.
Support for the night came from Best Before ’84, the side project of Paddy Shine from Salford-based GNOD, self-described as sounding ‘like throwing all your electronic goods down 200 flights of stairs’. Taking to the stage in a still near-empty room, Best Before ’84 pummelled spectators with a unique, 30 minute mix of dystopian sounds and aggressive samples. The set was intense, drilling into your head and repeatedly filling the venue with deep walls of bass. It was a tough and challenging listen at times, especially considering their set had no pauses or breaks, but the duo’s futuristic and industrial efforts were met with appreciative applause and cheers from the crowd, which had slowly begun to grow over the previous half hour.
By the time Moon Duo, who somewhat confusingly perform as a 3-piece due to the addition of touring drummer John ‘JJ’ Jeffrey, took to the stage, the room had swelled to capacity. It’s a humble entrance: a scattering of claps and whoops greet the band as regular members Ripley Johnson and Sanae Yamada position themselves either side of the stage. The set is opened by the one-two punch of ‘The Death Set’ and ‘Cold Fear’, the opening two tracks from latest LP “Occult Architecture Vol. 1″. The ability of the trio to create such a vast and expansive sound is impressive, and by the time ‘Creepin”, one of “Occult Architecture Vol. 1’s” poppier moments, comes around, the crowd are shuffling their feet and swaying to JJ’s constant beats.
The whole set is a psychedelic experience in every sense. It takes them nearly an hour and a half to meander their way through eleven songs. This isn’t due to them talking to the crowd and making jokes between tunes, there’s none of that. It’s because each song lasts about eight minutes. Four albums in, Moon Duo, have a tried and tested formula for their music, and it’s a formula that works well. Songs are usually verse-chorus-verse-chorus-outro, and the outro often makes up the majority of the song. JJ takes on the role of drum machine, providing a repetitive rhythm while Yamada’s synths lay down a solid and rich melodic foundation. This allows Johnson’s effect-laden guitar to ring out into every corner of the venue, creating textures and soundscapes that engulf the listeners. Throughout the show, the music is complemented by a spectacular, kaleidoscopic light show. Six projectors are pointed at six individual swivelling mirrors, which are largely focussed on a single spot at the centre of the stage. The effect is an overlapping of vivid colours and shapes, spinning and twisting between the shadows of the band. At times, it’s breathtaking.
The remainder of the show is made up of songs cherry-picked from each of their first three records, before returning to “Occult Architecture Vol. 1 “for pre-encore closer ‘Cult of Moloch’. They return to the stage with ‘Sevens’, an upbeat cut from their upcoming album “Occult Architecture Vol. 2”, which is backed by a driving synth riff.
Looking down from the balcony during the set-closing cover of The Stooges’ ‘No Fun’, the room is full of fans with eyes shut as they energetically sway from side to side to the music. As the final note of the night rings out, Moon Duo have proved that fifty years on from the Summer of Love, psychedelia is still alive and well.