Bumbershoot Music Lounge: The Moondoggies

Photos by James Bailey

Hometown heroes, The Moondoggies have been running amok all over the Seattle area since their 2008 release, Don’t Be a Stranger, and even more so since their recently released EP You’ll Find No Answers Here, which came out in June 2010. They didn’t pop out of a cake overnight, and suddenly take the northwest by storm, but rather compounded interest over the years through a gamut of tours and hard, hard work, growing their low local profile into a nationally recognized act. Rootsy harmonies, and old-soul crooning from frontman Kevin Murphy, will rock your socks off with their live show. Otherworldly, but sonically refreshing to the the modern day listener. The lyrics are honest and personal, yet there is no overthinking in the music, there is beauty in simplicity, and that is probably why the genre of Americana is so solid. Their second full-length, Tidelands, is slated for release September 14th on Hardly Art

The Moondoggies gave an unexpected stripped down, acoustic set for the audience at the KEXP music lounge. With their bassist ill, the band had to make last second accommodations (but don’t fret, the band says he will be at their performance later today.) Regardless if it was planned or not, the soft set granted Bumbershoot goers a healthy dose of relaxation early on in the festival, opening up with the somber and delightful “Empress of the North.” The light guitar strumming and soft keys with simple drums eased the audience in for a blissful set.

On “Undertaker,” drummer Carl Dahlen stepped out from his drum-set and sat between guitarist/lead singer Kevin Murphy and keyboardist Caleb Quick on a fold out chair to assist on harmonies. Played only with the acoustic guitar and 3 part harmonies, the band captured the solemn and dark tones of death. It was hard to even breath during the minutes of despair and fantastic descriptions of facing the end.

The band mentioned that they had never played the next song,”Can’t Be In The Middle,” acoustic before this performance. For those listening, this was definitely a rare treat. The minimalist instrumentation made it easier to focus on the words of the song as well as the haunting harmonies. The keys on the song had the feeling of an old organ in an abandoned chapel or possibly a dark cabaret. Before playing “When You’re Young,” Murphy mentioned that he had only played the song in front of a handful of people before. Another rare treat. He played solo with his guitar, his voice rising and falling and wobbling with the nostalgia of youth once had.

Dahlen came back out again from the drums to join the makeshift, folksy, three person choir on the song “It’s A Shame, It’s A Pity.” The harmonies were on par with other folk rock bands such as Fleet Foxes but with the simple, workingman’s feeling to them. Things got a little bit more upbeat with “Lead Me On” as Dahlen returned to the drums and Quick took some more liberty with the piano. The harmonious echoes to Murphy’s lines saying “where to begin?” were heartbreaking.

The guys were all very humble, which is part of the whole charm of the band. Murphy noted how the last two songs would be the hardest to sing, but as he started in on “Fly Mama Fly” his voice sounded impeccable. The subtle piano playing and the bass drum and snares playing back and forth gave the balladeers the exact sound the song needed. The group sounded like a bit folksier and less bluegrassy version of The Avett Brothers. Whenever Dahlen and Quick would come in with their harmonies, the dynamics of the song would fill every corner of the room.

Before the last song Quick and Murphy chuckled and debated over which key to play in, giving the feel of an impromptu jam session which added to the humble and simple feel of the set. This type of genuine feel and attitude is rare in a performance. “Uncertain” was filled with distraught and woes as Murphy and the boys cried “I hope it pays, these loveless days.” The Moondoggies seem to have seen a lot of things in their lives, some good and some bad, but it was a┬áprivilege┬áto hear them tell their stories and share wisdom with their music.

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