Friday, April 19, 2013
I'll say this about the Doug Fir, they're prompt. After a spot of confusion at the box office, I arrive on the floor at 9:08 and Minneapolis up-and-comers Night Moves are already a song into their set. The first couple of impressions are, naturally, visual: singer/guitarist John Pelant's space-age, gaffer-taped guitar cord and the dapperness of bass player Micky Alfano that brings to mind a young Rick Danko. The former is anomalous, the twisty silvery appurtenance that resembles nothing so much as a tube swinging off the side of the robot in Lost In Space could not be contextually further from the hit-ready countrified soul filling the friendly timbers of the Doug Fir. The latter, however, is much nearer the mark, as the Band is certainly a reference point here, if only glancingly, though on "Old Friends" the hit is more direct, replete as it is with a least a cousin to Robbie Robertson's plangent guitar tone coming off Mark Ritsema's hollow body Gibson.
Takes as a whole, Night Moves fall under the Americana heading which is fair if reductive, as their sound so innately expands beyond the boundaries of such that one should at the very least addend the word 'sumptuous' to that label. At first glance Pelant might be mistaken for a lost Gallagher brother but then he opens his mouth to sing and it's more likely he's a lost Buckley, especially on their album's title track "Colored Emotions," the delicate but decisive croon lapping at the shores of falsetto.
"Country Queen" is introduced as their prom song, there's some joking mention of a disco ball but if that's the case it's the last song of the prom, a tune that one could easily imagine becoming 'our song' for any number of young couples draped over one another at the Elks, its all yearning and love-declarative and has 'pop-soul classic' written all over it, albeit with the e'er present country-tinged lilt.
Genre-labeling aside, at the end of the day Night Moves are simply superior song stylists, there's an effortless sheen of classicism hanging over virtually every song like a golden radio haze. As an ensemble it's quite clear they've been playing together solidly for a few years (since 2009, to be encyclopedic about it) but also that they meld together in that seamless way as bands do that are meant to be.
As the set proceeds through "Horses" with its touch of Dark Side Of The Moon-era Pink Floyd creeping in towards the end, through "Classical Hearts" with more of those Band-soaked tough-angel vocals, I keep coming back to the sultry soul notes that flavor nearly every song regardless of other ostensible influences and think Too bad Al Green producer Willie Mitchell ain't around any more.'
A swinging light bulb projected on the back screen and the obligatory 'Hello Portland!' shout herald the arrival of Django Django. By this point the venue is well-sardined and your intrepid correspondent has retreated to the safety of the bar's far corner for the sake of scrivener's ease if nothing else, plus I'm afforded a nice, unimpeded letter-box view of the band as they waste no time in winning over the crowd with one of their best-known tracks. "Hail Bop," common sense would dictate, is a very nervy way indeed to begin their set. Lesser bands might save it for a mid-set highlight, perhaps the encore, but Django Django are clearly confident enough in their matrial that they can toss out the obvious crowd-pleaser right off without a worry.
"Hail Bop" and other tracks - "Storm" for instance - on their self-titled debut from last year have drawn many accurate comparisons to Brian Eno in his early solo, pre-ambient period (As if that's a bad thing, one can't help but say) and synth master Tommy Grace bears some resemblance to Mark Mothersbaugh, even hopping about like him, bringing the band's inevitable debt to (a more refined) Devo to the fore, but I say to heck with that, this will tell you everything about how they sound: if there was a band playing the bar on Skylab, it was Django Django. But anyway, regardless of what comparisons get thrown at them, what matters is melody and structure, inventiveness and tone. In short, songs, and Django-squared have them to spare.
When a song like "Firewater" can feature both a faint but insistent echo of cowbell and synthesized handclaps and still drop you dead with a kind of airy singalong funk, well, something magical's goin' on. And it never really lets up. Before "Skies Over Cairo," frontman Vincent Neff shows how inveterate a showman he is, persuading the boisterous crowd to put down their drinks and join in a full extended arm wave thang a la some Egyptian house party.
Make no mistake, these lads may have formed in London but cannot escape the Edinburgh roots from which the band arose. There are moments, especially during "Default" - another ringingly popular selection - that the ghosts of a bagpipe and pennywhistle are hidden in the jumpy jiggy rhythm, reels as interpreted by New Order.
The syncopated groove that prevails throughout their set might suggest an over-reliance on the pre-packaged ones-and-zeroes programmed into the machinery up there but in fact nothing feels rote or contrived. Somewhat coreographed, certainly, this is a performance, after all, but there's never a sense of what we're hearing/seeing as being anything but spontaneous, driving and true.
Thing about Django Django, they emit many slyly identifiable sounds - bit of surf guitar here, bit of Mexican Radio there, in addition to the Enoisms already cited - but it's all hybridized in such a way that the band's sonic profile is very recognizably their own. In a word (OK, two), bloody irresistible.
Posted by Dave Cantrell at 9:39 PM