You would think that a sound guy would relish the opportunity to mix a set by twin-guitar rockers Above the Moon, considering how catchy, and interesting, and texturally delicious their songs are. And then there’s the matter of the lustre, and puwer, and nuance of frontwoman/guitarist Kate Griffin’s exquisite voice. What did the sound guy at Leftfied do last Friday night when somebody in the crowd asked for more vocals? Did he tweak a couple of inputs, maybe, lower the drums or the guitars a tad? Nope.
He took her vocals out of the mix. Just when you think you’ve seen it all, right? At least you’ll be able to hear her when the band plays an extremely rare acoustic set at 9:30 PM tomorrow night, May 25 at the Bitter End, where the Aquarian – sort of the across-the-Hudson counterpart to the Village Voice – has been staging nights of bands fron their home state. Cover is $10.
Last Friday, only in the quietest moments was that spun-crystal voice audible, and then only through the stage monitors. So for all intents and purposes, the band played an instrumental set. Although Griffin’s vocals are probably what everybody in the crowd came to hear, to the band’s credit, they held their own as an instrumental unit, testament to how memorable their tunesemithing is. The subtle upper-midrange distinctions between Griffin’s Telecaster – which she often ran through what sounded like an old analog chorus pedal for an expecially tasty, deep-space jangle – and lead guitarist James Harrison’s Strat, which he played using a wah for all sorts of subtle and dramatic oscillations – were front and center throughout the show. Bassist Shawn Murphy played bitingly tuneful, catchy lines high up the fretboard, Peter Hook style, often serving as a second lead guitar. Powerhouse drummer John Gramuglia built drama when he wasn’t swinging the midtempo stuff by the tail, or providing a punchy postpunk pulse.
Some of the material followed what would become a famiiar and very effective pattern, a tensely enigmatic verse into a big, clanging, triumphant payoff on the chorus. A couple of other numbers took that idea and flipped the script. On one hand, there were echoes of the jaggedly minimalistic insistence of 90s bands like Versus, and the occasional oblique swipe from Harrison back toward vintage Sonic Youth or Shellac. On the other hand, there was always a hummable tune somewhere, whether in the big buildup to a chorus, or the melancholy twang of the midtempo number toward the end of the set that proved to be the night’s high point. On one hand, taking Griffin out of the mix was criminal, like hitting the mute during a Prince guitar solo. On the other, Above the Moon turned into a great instrumental band – for one show and one show only, let’s hope.