Live Review: The Moondoggies and Grand Hallway @ Neumos 5/20

photos by Caitlyn Mirete

The first time I heard of The Moondoggies was a few years ago when I saw that they were playing a low-profile, two-band “event” in the Quad at the UW. It was nothing to speak of, really, and I thought of how “The Moondoggies” was a pretty cool band name and forgot about it. Like I said, that was a few years ago, and a lot can happen in a few years. In The Moondoggies case, a band can go from being a moderately recognizable local name, playing wherever they can around the city, to being a moderately recognizable national name, in the middle of country-wide summer tour that includes an appearance at the Bonnaroo Music Festival in Tennessee this June. When I heard they were playing at Neumos with Grand Hallway and Magic Mountain, I made sure I wouldn’t miss them this time.

We arrived at Neumos an hour and a half after the doors opened, expecting to catch Magic Mountain, who none of us had heard of before, mid set. We walked in, however, to a find band on stage that looked and sounded strangely like The Moondoggies. For a while, I thought The Moondoggies might have gone on first to play a few songs as part of some stunt to reward those who showed up early, but I learned later that Magic Mountain was in fact a side project that The Moondoggies were involved in with Arthur & Yu’s Grant Olsen. This didn’t surprise me in the least, only serving as yet another testament to the collaborative communality developing around the local folk rock scene containing bands such as The Moondoggies, Arthur & Yu, Grand Hallway, and The Maldives. No one seems to be strictly entrenched in or solely defined by a single band, with everyone contributing to the spirit of the scene in whatever ways they can, whether it’s through side projects, joint shows, or guest appearances.

Perhaps the torch-bearer of this spirit is Tomo Nakayama, who frequently plays with The Maldives in addition to fronting Grand Hallway, the band set to come on after Magic Mountain. Grand Hallway started as a four piece in 2006, and Nakayama has been steadily adding members since then. On Thursday, there were between eight and nine people on stage at all times, playing bass, drums, guitar, strings, while Nakayama and Shenandoah Davis alternated the vocal and keyboard duties up front, with Nakayama also playing guitar. While I want to say Grand Hallway live is all about Nakayama’s energy and unconventional front man appeal, it is really about the collection of personalities on stage and how they play together. No two members are alike or seem like they belong in a band together (or a band at all for that matter), and yet they play a unique style of emotional rock that is propelled by their cohesive diversity as much as by Nakayama’s wail -- to borrow aptly from Yo La Tengo, I could hear the hearts beating as one.

Unfortunately, it was much easier to hear the mouths talking as one throughout most of Grand Hallway’s set. The audience seemed more focused on chatting it up than on the music, and the conversation continued into the first few songs of The Moondoggies‘ set as well. In all fairness, the headliners came out a bit flat energy-wise, and I have to admit that there was a time when my mind was alternating between the show and the cream cheese hot dog I had penciled in for afterwards.

The show really started as soon as Moondoggies’ front man Kevin Murphy, who with his thick hair and beard looked like a combination of Dan Auerbach circa Keep It Hid and Zach Galafanakis, started into “Ol’ Blackbird,” the first up-tempo, up-beat song of the night played by any band. It served as a much-needed auditory B-12 shot for the audience, who finally started to get down and focus entirely on what was transpiring on stage. With the crowd now reeled in, they played several more countrified jams driven by Robert Terreberry’s aggressive, freewheeling bass lines and distinguished by Caleb Quick’s Highway 61-style Rhodes organ, which takes listeners straight back to the days of The Band, who are an influence on the Moondoggies’ vocal harmonies as well as instrumentation. The highlight of the set was “Night & Day,” the gloomy eight-minute episodic jam that is the band’s most unique song and sounds like everything from Elizabeth Cotten to Pink Floyd to Radiohead -- and made conversation impossible at that point.

They ended the set with the high-spirited “Long Time Coming,” before coming out to play “Bocachiel Blues” as an encore. As they left the stage they announced that they would be playing an Acapella show at the Fremont Abbey the next night with, guess who, The Maldives and Grand Hallway. The party never ends.

Grand Hallway:

The Moondoggies:

View more of Caitlyn’s photos from the night here.

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