Review: The Moho Collective at Utica Music and Arts Festival

One thing I do not miss is an outdoor Moho Collective set.  I think it’s safe to say that nearly everyone I ran into all weekend knew this was one of my must see bands. I do a great deal of prattling on about Moho’s charms,  and I intended to see both their Greens Fest set as well as later in the evening at Piers & Blake.  Indoors, they are a delight, but something extra special happens when this band has a chance to do its thing in the sunshine and fresh air, and their first set this year was on the Utica Greens Festival Stage right on Varick Street on Saturday afternoon.

I pried myself from the merch booth and ran up front to get a little much needed Rochester-style boogie on. The Moho Collective plays an innovative mix of instrumental jazz fusion with a strong world music representation.  There is a heavy taste of blues and even nods toward the grunge movement in their approach as they  truly use tones and styles as tools rather than definitive compartments.  Fans of funk and avant-garde,indie rock can also find many things to appreciate about the Moho and I really do encourage everyone who wasn’t drawn by the sound this weekend to go to the band’s website and check them out, pronto.

From the opening strains of the first song, this band did indeed draw people.  My time in Rochester taught me well to run right up front and start grooving, however ridiculous I might look.  Some of the first souls to join me were the kids.  The tiny tot crowd, no older than 7, dug the hell out of this group, responding naturally to the evocative tonal arrangements and eternal rhythms and the sight of their innocent enjoyment heightened my experience for sure.   Some music sets the spirit free and Moho serves up a steady dose of just that sort.  May the youngest ones continue to remind us of this.  In no time at all, most of the people milling about the street had pushed up toward the stage to listen closer.

Kurt G. Johnson wielded things with strings commandingly as usual, moving from his telecaster to a lap steel, tweaking knobs and adjusting tones all the while, including a small bit of sampling.  A slight feedback problem and a little unanticipated bleed over from the inside stage nearby proved challenging for the band’s on stage sound, but it’s safe to say the audience wasn’t phased.  Ryan Barclay is an  intuitive and intelligent percussionist.  The term ‘drummer’ just does not fit the bill here.  Shaking and rattling a wide array of noise making devices, Barclay layers brick by brick into the wall of sound.  Particularly worth noting, he taps out a great groove on a tambourine in Chikyu Hakken against the eastern tones of Johnson’s finger picking on the steel that adds a heady counterpoint and gets stuck, itself, in your head.  He frequently fuses percussion with tonality by employing gongs, what looks like brass meditation bowls, and chimes in choice moments of several numbers in addition to his work on his kit.  They are professionally trained, accomplished musicians and it plainly shows.  Justin Rister works both an upright and a Fender P Bass, switching as the situation calls for.  Also trained in percussion, Rister rounds out the trio’s sound both high and low and is constantly adding rhythm and color to each song.

I’m intrigued and impressed by how often the band is able to weave spiritual sounds into their songs and notice that often the bass’ rumble is dancing close to or on top of chakra tones.  Like a puzzle, each member of this sonic team drops firmly into place and expresses to create the whole that is the collective. So, we smiled into the sunshine on a lovely Saturday afternoon, close friends and neighbors nearby, and we simply were joyful.  It was a beautiful thing.  A sign sat on the check in desk all weekend that sums up the experience of a Moho Collective show.  “The groove is here to lift you up.” Right on, right on.

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