LOTUS and MOONHOOCH

Mr. Smalls Theatre – Millvale, PA – 12/29/12

Words/Photos by Ryan Neeley – Appalachian Jamwich

Jesse Miller of Lotus – photo by Ryan Neeley – Appalachian Jamwich Photography

Being the veteran of many shows and  festivals over the past few decades, I always come away from them with a few bands that simply blow my mind.  First off, in full disclosure mode, I’m a bluegrass fan.   Always will be.   But I’ve made it a point to go into every show I see, whether it be a full electronic show like Girl Talk or a straight up bluegrass hoe-down like Yonder Mountain String Band, with an open mind, ears and eyes wide open, soaking it all in.  And once in a while, a band will REALLY blow me away.   Well, let me tell you, this happened to me the first time I saw Lotus in Philadelphia in October 2008 when they did the Halloween “27 show – Live Fast Die Young” where each member dressed as a musician who died at age 27 (Jimi Hendrix, Pigpen, Brian Jones, Kurt Cobain, Jim Morrison) and covered each of those musicians or bands.   I was also blown away by Moonhooch at 2012’s All Good Festival, where there were dozens of other performers to WOW me – This band really touched me because everything was all still NEW to them.  “These people are raging to OUR music,” I imagined them thinking as they wailed on the saxophones and watched as the crowd’s dancing grew in intensity as they dove headfirst into the waters of Moonhooch’s sound.  The trio was discovered by promoter Tim Walther while busking in the subways of New York City for dollars, and here they were, the three of them, performing for 20,000 people.  “Someone needs to pinch me and I’ll wake up,” saxophonist Wenzl McGowen exclaimed on stage in a foreign accent.   It still gives me chills to this day knowing that we all shared this special moment with these guys.  So when Opus One Productions announced that Lotus AND Moonhooch would be coming to the quaint Mr. Smalls Theatre, I couldn’t miss the chance to rage with less than 1,200 fellow fans.

The show opened with Moonhooch coming out to a roar.  Moonhoch has been described as cave music – “It’s like House, but its more wild, more jagged, more free, more natural to live in.”   With simply two brass players and a drummer playing a simple, smaller drumset – no guitar – no bass – no keys- but dance-heavy like you would not believe.  McGowan (saxophone) joined James Muschler (drums) and Mike Wilbur (saxophone) in putting on a set that would make you believe that they’ve been a part of the tour the whole time; however, this was their first show together with Lotus.   Highlights of the set included the song Acoustic Dubstep in the Forest, with driving saxophones.  They also brought out a cardboard tube that McGowan stated was “found on the side of the road on 82nd street in New York” and blasted some raging sounds from it that you would mistake for a didgeridoo.  They definitely proved that you don’t need a 22 piece drumset and expensive instrumentation to throw out sounds that make people want to get down.

After the Moonhooch set, the crowd was primed for Lotus.   This group defies genre, so I’m not going to even try too hard – the best description I can give is they’re like old school The New Deal – the livetronica sound is definitely hot right now – Many people like the build-up and release that electronic dance music brings; however, they can’t get past the fact that the artists are NOT playing ACTUAL instruments.  Well, Lotus does not fit that mold.  Each of the musicians are accomplished artists that can transfer the electronic feel of the music to instruments, something that is very difficult to do.   And they KILL it every time, bringing throngs of people to their feet to groove to their heady beats, all the while evolving their sound and expanding their repertoire

They came out to What Did I Do Wrong? and the crowd was flailing with delight.  Mike Greenfield ‘s driving drums along with Jesse Miller’s thick bass notes and sampling kept the crowd hungry for more.   The highlight of my night during set one was when they played the Zelda theme,  which I’ve never had the opportunity to see live, sandwiched in between Wax, another one of my favorites.  Mike Rempel shined on guitar on the set one closer, Let Me In, with soaring psychedelic licks reverberating from the small theatre.

Set Two rocketed off with an especially psychedelic Blacklight Sunflare, Chuck Morris laid a proper foundation on percussion for Luke Miller to weave in and out of on keys on Gilded Age.   And then, in an especially house-heavy combination, the boys pulled off Sift Sunrain>Flower Sermon>Ghosts n Stuff>Flower Sermon>Sunrain that had the crowd raging at this intimate venue.

They encored with Spaghetti> 128 , closing out the show in a proper manner but leaving the crowd yearning for more.   Luckily, Baltimore, which is where Lotus closed out the year with Moonhooch on the 30th and An Evening with Lotus (3 sets!) on New Years Eve,  is a short 4 hour trip, and speaking to a few people in the crowd, was too simply too tempting to resist.   Walking out of the venue, there were smiles galore and a general happiness in the cold December night air, proving once again that Lotus and Moonhooch are bands that create their own sound and constantly evolve, a refreshing change from other bands in the industry today.  And judging from the reactions of people after the show, the sold out crowd at Mr. Smalls Theatre in Millvale, PA could not agree more and will continue to support these titans of livetronica and creators of cave music for years to come.

Set 1: What Did I Do Wrong?   Lucid Awakening   Did Fatt> Scrapple    Wax> Zelda> Wax    Let Me In –
Set 2: Blacklight Sunflare    Juggernaut   Gilded Age    Sift Sunrain> Flower Sermon> Ghosts n’ Stuff> Flower Sermon> Sunrain
E: Spaghetti>     128

 

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Ryan Neeley - At a Hookahville in 2010, a very old wise hippie by the name of Mingo and I were sitting by a fire and I was complaining about the local music scene. He looked at me and said, "What are YOU doing about it man?" I immediately defended myself, saying "Hey, I go to shows all the time and support local bands." He said, "That's it? You got something in you, dude. You were blessed with something. If music's what moves you, you gotta use your gift to take it to others." The next show I went to I met an owner of a regional music magazine and put my talents/schooling to work. COINCIDENCE?

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