Review: Moonface at Kung Fu Necktie, 8/4/2011

On Thursday, August 4th, Moonface played at Phladelphia’s Kung Fu Necktie. For those of you who’ve never been to the venue, it’s a small and noisy bar, rundown enough to be rock n’ roll, but nonthreatening enough to be indie rock n’ roll. The staff is friendly, the bathrooms are clean (relatively), and, most importantly, the sound system is blaring, making it one of the better places to see a band in the Philadelphia area. As Spencer Krug, leader of Moonface, put it, “This place is perfect for us. Small and loud.”

As the crowd began to fill out the area in front of the stage, an air of mystery and excitement could be felt among the eager concertgoers. Small snippets of chatter showed the diversity in the crowd. While some were clearly die hard Krug fans (I overheard one couple talking about how good last weekend’s Moonface show was in New York), others had no idea what to expect from the man whose many musical side projects have been lauded for their creativity and experimentalism. Still others were unsure how the new material would translate to a live setting. Seeing as Moonface, in its current incarnation, has largely been a solo recording project for Krug to explore his more urgent songwriting inspirations, it was unclear how the material off of his fantastic new album, Organ Music Not Vibraphone Like I’d Hoped, would go over with a bar crowd.

As it turns out, it goes over very well.

After a short, but very enjoyable set from opening sample artist Flow Child, Moonface was ready to go on. As Spencer Krug and Moonface percussionist Mike Bigelow took the stage, a crowd of over 60 people, which felt like a lot in the congested venue, erupted into applause. The band approached their instruments, a vintage organ and an electronic drum kit, and began their set with Organ Music opening track, “Return To The Violence Of The Ocean Floor.” As the song’s cascading organ melodies swirled and built upon each other, Krug’s reverb-drenched vocals could be heard distinctly over the cacophonous music. Though the song’s lyrics reflect a certain degree of self doubt, particularly, “You should have been a writer, you should have played guitar / But your face looks like a statue in the dark,” the duo performed it with a level of energy and confidence that rivaled any of Krug’s other, more well known projects.

The set continued with “Whale Song (Song Instead of a Kiss),” one of the darkest songs of the night, both lyrically and musically. Despite it’s morbid themes, “Whale Song” showcases Krug’s signature cleverness and wit, as well as his impressive ability to pack an immense amount of meaning into a short phrase. Lines like “I could see you’ve made a garden / From the flowers growing out of my remains / And I would say it’s not the way that I would have them / But I would also say it will work just the same,” benefit greatly from Krug’s live delivery, highlighting both the devastation and black humor that phrases like these embody. On the heels of “Whale Song,” came “Shit-Hawk In The Snow,” a noisy, high tension track that featured some of Krug’s best keyboard playing of the night. As Krug sang, “And it will hypnotize you,” one couldn’t help but be struck by how fittingly the lyric described the concert itself. Krug and Bigelow’s intertwining keyboard and percussion work was truly hypnotizing.

To follow “Shit-Hawk,” Moonface played one of only two songs of the night not to be featured on Organ Music: B-side, “The Way You Wish You Could Live In The Storm.” Described by Krug in a press release as, “an angry duck that didn’t get along with the other songs on the Organ Music LP,” “The Way You Wish You Could Live In The Storm,” was a highlight of the night. Mike Bigelow’s percussive drumming and vibraphone playing were especially appreciated, as they laid a tight foundation for the most rhythmically shifting song in the Moonface catalogue.

“Fast Peter,” came next, maintaining the high level of energy that was set by “The Way You Wish You Could Live In The Storm.” Easily the most immediately enjoyable and accessible song on Organ Music, the live arrangement of “Fast Peter,” felt like a rush of blood to the head with it’s lively organ hook and some of Krug’s most straightforward lyrics. Again, Krug’s humor is on display in this song, which includes phrases that tread the line between comical and heartfelt: “But she lives so far away! / They only talk on their computers.” In fact, it’s this comical side of such a serious artist that makes Moonface the success that it is. While Krug has never been one to take himself too seriously, he also hasn’t ever let loose in the way that Moonface suggests. Spencer Krug is often noted as, and sometimes criticized for being one of the hardest working musicians around, releasing albums under different monikers almost every year. While the media is ready to paint him as one of the most stressed and constantly moving figures in the world of independent music, Moonface’s live performance showed Krug at a level of relaxed comfort and ease that is somewhat uncharacteristic in terms of how people tend to view him. Krug was clearly having fun playing these songs, and that energy was transferred tenfold to the audience.

Moonface ended their set withfinal track from Organ Music, “Loose Heart = Loose Plan,” another song in which Bigelow’s drumming proved essential. As Krug sang, “So I did a little dance in the hospital lobby / Singing, “Leave the revolution to the revolutionaries!”” those who knew the words sang along. Those who didn’t simply swayed and danced. At the song’s close, Krug announced that the duo would be performing a “fake encore,” and upon doing so ducked under his organ as if he had disappeared from the stage. Krug’s playfulness elicited cheers and laughter from the crowd, and enhanced the intimate feeling of seeing an iconic musician in such a small venue. Krug and Bigelow “returned” to the stage to play “All Fires,” from to Swan Lake’s 2006 debut, Best Moans. On the recording, the song is composed of little more than sporadic snare hits, understated keyboard sounds, an acoustic guitar, and Krug’s vocals. The song took on a whole new life in the hands of Moonface as Krug and Bigelow performed “All Fires” with dynamic percussive breaks and a constantly shifting arrangement that ran the gamut of styles displayed throughout the night. It was the perfect way to end the concert: it stood as a familiar peace offering of sorts to those unfamiliar with the Moonface record, but stayed true to the heart of the Moonface project.

Spencer Krug has proven himself time and time again as one the most dynamic songwriters and performers around, and Moonface only adds to his already impressive cannon.

Special thanks to Lucy Robinson at Jagjaguwar and Moonface for having us at the show.

Special thanks to contributing photographer Andrew Killough for the photos in the gallery below:

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