“What do you guys do for fun around here in Lawrence, drink?”
The question was posed midway through Night Moves set at the Jackpot on Friday, where the new Minnesota band was opening for NYC headliner Ava Luna. The audience glanced nervously around, nodding and shuffling their feet.
Pretty much, yeah. Well, that and watch basketball.
With the crowd now fully engaged by their witty stage banter, Night Moves busted into another psych-rock soundscape, the boom boom bass combining with a hip hop backbeat. The lead vocals were high and reverb-soaked, in the now crowded vein of MGMT or Band of Horses.
For a relatively new band, these guys were comfortably solid, due in part probably to their work in other bands over the last couple years in the Minneapolis indie rock scene. My one gripe was the prevalence of pre-programmed shit. They used a lot of it, and though it sounds good, for me, once a band gets past a certain percentage of pre-recorded stuff it cheapens everything a bit.
Like they’re cheating or something.
But the 1/3 full Jackpot audience was receptive, though it was obvious most were there to see the main act.
Ava Luna took the stage six strong – apparently missing one of its female backup singers – and quickly launched into Ice Level, the title track off their latest release. Right off the bat the eccentricity of this group was apparent with its stop beats and disjointed synth blasts. They allowed ample amounts of space to shine through the chunky riffs, a move less experienced bands can overlook by sticking to just one dynamic throughout – loud.
The band stuck with material mostly off the album, which is a mish-mash of neo soul, funk, scuzz, jazz, and sweaters. With two synthesizers.
The front man, Carlos Hernandez, looks the part of Rivers Cuomo in the Buddy Holly video, but he croons and shrieks in a soul style reminiscent of the new wave of throwback R & B pranksters like Mayer Hawthorne or Beck from Midnite Vultures.
Is it supposed to be ironic, with a cheeky nod and wink? Seriously, I really don’t know.
Most of the band’s fairly short set of songs featured chopped up beats from drummer Julian Fader, whose precision timing would have stolen the show if not for the blank, expressionless stare of female backup singer/one handed synth player Felicia Douglass. Her “I couldn’t care less” stage presence contrasted wildly with that of Hernandez’s wild man, and with super sincere lead female vocalist Becca Kauffman.
But that’s kind of Ava Luna’s deal.
As the show progressed it was obvious that their other “deal” might be holing up in a rehearsal studio, because all their songs were dense and complex, with twists and turns that constantly popped up, odd rhythmic sequences, and abrupt asymmetrical endings on just about every tune.
Sometimes it seems that’s the band’s downfall, too.
All the moving parts can sometimes jumble things up a little too much, more so in its live show than on its album, which definitely deserves a listen.