Moon Duo at Hare & Hounds, Birmingham

Support: Irma Vep
January 30, 2018 at Hare & Hounds, Birmingham
Promoter: This Is Tmrw

It’s Independent Venue Week, so lets start with a quick tip of the hat to the Hare & Hounds which is about as fine an example as you could look for, putting on bands and club nights across genres just about every night of the week. For you and I gentle reader it’s a no-brainer that such places are the heart and soul of healthy music scenes and an all round good thing, to the degree it’s shocking that they should need protecting from developers by legislation; but, here we are, don’t take your local independent venues for granted.

I stumble in early tonight, a situation I’m unfamiliar with, the half-full room is drenched in unnerving red light, Can plays quietly over the p.a., I have only the vaguest outline for Irma Vep as he takes the stage –- some kind of ramshackle lo-fi indie folk outfit that’s sometimes a band and sometimes just a solo thing. “Hi, I’m Edwin. I’m gonna play a few songs, it’s pretty chill, nothing rocking. . .” He holds an odd looking, possibly self-assembled, guitar with a small body and an almost comically large head stock. The songs he plays with it are similarly misshapen and rough-cut sketches of familiar forms. The first digs back through the Velvet Underground to ancient folk drones and is called with commendable directness ‘The Moaning Song’. The highlight of his set, ‘Tears Are The Sweetest Sauce’. is introduced as an old Welsh folk song, which I strongly suspect to be a mischievous lie, although it’s a misery-drenched mountain ballad that could stand up to the claim. The idiosyncratic qualities of his playing, singing and writing all come together to remarkable effect, and it seems to make the room hold its collective breath.

It’s also a super blood blue moon this week; what that portends for Moon Duo is unclear but they seem like the sorts to keep an eye on the movement of heavenly bodies don’t you think? No strangers to the tang of patchouli. Or maybe not, but they should seriously lift it for a title if nothing else. The thing about Moon Duo is that they make what they do look so simple and obvious that it’s easy to take them for granted. Their garage band space rock sits comfortably in a well defined lineage, which is unlikely to pack many surprises but remains consistently effective. The songs do all sound the same, but as the late great Mark E. Smith once said, “It’s not repetition, it’s discipline.” The skilled hand conceals its craft and great care has been employed to create the impression of simplicity and free flowing spontaneity on stage. I’d say it takes them about 10 maybe 15 minutes to achieve lift-off tonight, and from there it’s a fairly steady ascent into the stars. Swaying here and there from motorik grind to floatingly gorgeous melody they slowly turn up the intensity. They have such wonderful synth sounds; in fact, they have such wonderful sounds generally; even in the brasher moments it’s always a warm, rounded distortion. It wraps you like a comforting blanket. The love of Hawkwind and Sabbath that can keep some of our current British psych botherers stuck in sludge is refreshingly absent. Moon Duo create maximum output from minimal means; and while they may have swapped out the drum machine for a real drummer there’s still a gleaming machine logic and propulsion at the heart of their sound. They build and deepen the hypnotic groove as the set wears on and yet the crowd remains surprisingly still. By the time they get into the home stretch it’s almost like techno: the beat pounding; the psychedelic lightshow in overdrive. Splendid stuff.

One of the venues amusing quirks is that backstage is actually at the back of the hall, so they crouch in the gloom for a couple of minutes before popping back up for a crowd-pleasing encore. Inevitably, it’s the two covers celebrating the roots of their sound that make up their recent 12″. Alan Vega’s ‘Jukebox Babe’ works better, and seems more urgent, than the recorded version. The Stooges ‘No Fun’ is given a more straightforward run though than their sunny studio-take – the submerged vocals allowing the relentlessly driving riff to take centre stage (focussing its echo down almost fifty years into what Moon Duo do now) completing our orbit.

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