Sometimes it seems like Spencer Krug is competing with Nick Thorburn (of Islands and The Unicorns) to see who can start the most side projects. At least that would provide some explanation for their respectively astronomical outputs under so many different names. But the truth is that Krug just loves making and playing music. That much is obvious after Thursday night’s Moonface show at DC’s Black Cat Backstage. In the battle between Nicky Diamond and The One Man Wolf Pack, I root for Krug. And that’s even taking Michael Cera on bass into consideration.
Following an awkward, dumbfounding, tantalizing, and yet danceable sample-based frenzy from opener Flow Child, Mr. Krug and his compatriot, Mike Bigelow, walked out on stage, stating matter-of-factly, “We’re called Moonface.” The duo lapsed directly into “Return to the Violence of the Ocean Floor”, which kicks off the forthcoming (and absurdly descriptively titled) Organ Music Not Vibraphone Like Id Hoped. From the get-go, Krug’s heaving organ and looped blipping backtrack assumed a much larger presence than on the record. Things really intensified as each song progressed, getting spontaneous, with Krug sliding up and down his keys in well-timed spurts. The Wolf Parade co-pilot clutched the mic and wailed in typical Krug fashion: eyes half open in a quavering, deep croak. This while making some pretty hypnotic noises with his keyboard, organ, and loop pedals, all lit up by a luminescent globe.
Really Krug’s commanding presence and delivery of his own highly cryptic lyrics are what make his live show so great, whatever band he’s playing with. Krug lets his songs carry his voice, as if possessed by his own creations, until they become larger than one could imagine based on their fairly simple parts: a backtrack, some keys, and a rhythm section. Bigelow’s polyrhythms really kept things interesting, with his fast-paced digital vibraphone and drum pads. His feverish mallet-work brought a different level of melodic complexity to Krug’s mesmerizing arpeggios.
From there, Krug and Bigelow went through most of the new Moonface material. Songs began with the basic 8-bit backtrack that can be heard on most of the new album, but continually grew and blossomed into layers of organ fuzz, impossibly melodic vibraphone, and powerful drum samples. Breaking and chopping up the sounds to create open space and even more intense rhythms, it was a pretty awesome affair for such admittedly unassuming music. These are songs that explore the limits of two instruments, marimba/vibraphone and organ, but cover a lot of ground in that exploration.
Krug appeared happy throughout the entire set, too, unusually thankful and talkative. He even gave bashful thumbs up in response to a “We love you Spencer!” from an excited woman. He’s mentioned in the past that the Black Cat is one of his favorite venues, so maybe that had something to do with it.
But the set’s highlight certainly came on the duo’s final song. Krug announced that they really didn’t have any more Moonface material and that he would play a Swan Lake (one of Krug’s other projects, featuring Dan Bejar of Destroyer) cover. “All Fires” smacked everybody there in the face pretty hard, especially since the song really took a new shape, proving the distinction that can exist between projects from a guy with so many of them. The song formed from the same pieces that had been working all night, into a breakbeat, fuzz-fueled sing-a-long. People left with pretty wide smiles.
In the time of John Maus and Ariel Pink 80s revivalists accruing dozens of imitators, Krug’s music as Moonface could easily be cast off as an unnecessary exploration of archaic analog synthesizers, yet with Krug at the hull, its not that simple. His confident passion makes anything he touches worthwhile. It’s hard not to love somebody who loves music this much. You can keep Michael Cera, Nick.