Nearly a decade ago, the members of Moon Hooch were busking in the NYC subways, filling the tunnels with their raw and energetic saxophones and percussions. But try not to think of a few musicians, off to the side, with crowds of people just buzzing past minding their own business. Instead, Mike Wilbur, Wenzl McGowen and James Muschler would turn entire subway platforms into tribal dance floors with their beat-infused jazz music. It was not long before the MTA banned them from smaller subway stations and they were bringing their “cave music” above ground to TV shows and sold out music venues.
The trio made their way to Bowery Ballroom this past Thursday, for the second stop on their lengthy world tour. The line to get in extended around the corner before doors opened and the Brooklyn-based band was treated to a warm reception from a room packed with fans and close friends. They hit the stage earlier than the posted set time and kicked into high gear right from the start. At times, more than half the dance floor was turned into a dancing mosh pit; if it wasn’t for the cables plugging their instruments in, I’m sure Mike and Wenzl would have dove right in.
Even though the group has graduated from the subways to the stage, their sound and live setup remains true to their origins. A modest drum kit sat center stage with an army of saxophones standing at attention off to the side. A makeshift DJ set-up, several props and smaller wind instruments that would appear later in the show all sat on a table.
A large open area was left to allow for the immensely energetic performance. The music did not skip a beat while the two saxophonists bounced and danced from one side of the stage to the other. Constant swapping of instruments and the use of horn props all led to a very dense and eclectic sound. At one point, a traffic cone was attached to Wenzl’s tenor sax, turning it into a deep-bass horn extending over the heads of the fans in the front row.
It does not seem likely that a subway busking performance would have a well planned setlist, and that was also the case for this show. All of the songs were performed as live basement jams, but with a “telepathic” connection between the trio. For almost two hours, the band played nearly non-stop, constantly mixing and improvising the songs that make up their catalog. The madhouse that ensued would not let up until security was forcing people to the exits.
The band just self-released their 4th LP, Life On Other Planets, earlier this month right before kicking off the tour. Unlike their last three records, the band decided to forgo obsessively producing and mastering tracks and instead attempted to reproduce the raw and unpredictable sound of their live shows. Almost all of the tracks were single-take recordings featuring extensive build ups, driving percussions and ear-ringing, funky sax riffs. The result is a largely successful and unique record. After seeing the show for myself, one could assume the new LP is a live album taken from one of their shows.
Moon Hooch have dates all across the US through February, then they hit Europe for March and April. Support for these shows comes from Sungazer, The Tangled Roots, The Main Squeeze and Paris Monster. Check out the full list of dates here.