We Love Music: Moogfest Pt. 2 (Asheville, NC—4/24/14)

Janelle Monae speaks (Photo courtesy Moogfest)

Janelle Monae speaks (Photo courtesy Moogfest)

Generally speaking, I’m a night owl, and when I travel I revel in my rare opportunities to own the night–even if owlishly.

That said, my capacity for enjoying the day programming offered by Moogfest was admittedly limited. Out of intense curiosity, however, I was able to rise early enough on Thursday, April 24, to catch some of a presentation by Janelle Monae and her collaborators Chuck Lightning and Nate Rocket Wonder.

The session, titled after Monae’s work “The Electric Lady,” took me to the Diana Wortham Theatre in downtown Asheville’s Pack Place for the first time. The 500-capacity theatre is a great place to catch a chat or a performance of any sort, and I found myself comfortably listening to Monae recount her experiences on tour, creating a series of paintings on stage during performance depicting the self-titled “Electric Lady” in question.

Monae related some of her experiences around the art (music and painting), her feelings about it and her longing for some sort of perfection. She and her cohorts were humbled to report performing at the White House for President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama a total of five times so far. It gave Monae perspective and inspiration to hear that the First Lady often listened to her music during workouts; she and the others agreed that it gave them an added depth of responsibility to consider the messages behind their music when they knew such influential people were listening to it.

Com Truise and his pentagon (Photo courtesy Moogfest)

Com Truise and his pentagon (Photo courtesy Moogfest)

As much as I enjoyed Monae and her producers’ chat, there was no music to hear, so I skipped off to explore some of Asheville and make my plans for later that evening. I would rejoin Moogfest for electronic musician Com Truise at the Orange Peel later.

After being silent for a while, Com Truise (or Seth Haley, as he was born) released an EP, Wave 1, on Ghostly International in February. He came through D.C. and performed at DC9 on March 12 in support of that effort. Both in D.C. and in Asheville, Com Truise drew large crowds (DC9 sold out; the Orange Peel was quite robustly full). People definitely soaked up his minimalist chill.

Com Truise’s performance took its cues from across his various albums as he played everything from “Cyanide Sisters” and “Sundriped” from his first EP in 2010 to “VHS Sex” and “Cathode Girls” from 2011′s Galactic Melt.

While the music is definitely very listenable, you definitely have to consider Com Truise’s light show, which comes primarily in the form of a pulsating pentagon of light, reacting in time to his music as he plays it. The pentagon was a hit at DC9 and just as big of one at Moogfest. At Moogfest, Com Truise had the added advantage of a stage high enough that he could perform from a podium atop the pentagon, giving allusion to a high priest dispensing multi-colored lights to the masses. (On smaller stages such as at DC9, the pentagon had to sit next to him; this was far more imposing and much more effective.)

I could not stay with Com Truise for long, as I was interested in one of the headlining concerts of the night–English prog rock legend Keith Emerson or German synthpop innovators Kraftwerk? I chose wisely and returned to the Diana Wortham Theatre for Emerson. Kraftwerk performed two additional shows the following night on Friday, and I would catch one of them. Moreover, as the night went on, word spread around the festival of unexpected technical problems that delayed Kraftwerk’s Thursday night performance by about half an hour. By Friday, no such problems were to be seen.

Keith Emerson performs on his modular Moog synthesizer (Photo courtesy Moogfest)

Keith Emerson performs on his modular Moog synthesizer (Photo courtesy Moogfest)

Keith Emerson, performing with an incarnation of the Keith Emerson Band, was humble and chatty. Man and band provided some amazing 70s-style prog, combining elements of mysticism, longing and some straight-up thundering solos, particularly on Emerson’s towering Mood modular synthesizer rig.

They opened with “The Three Fates,” originally by super group Emerson, Lake and Palmer (ELP) and moved on to other selections like ELP’s “From the Beginning.” Needless to say, of course, the highlight of the concert was ELP’s “Lucky Man,” a splendid slow jam of contemplation on the apparently good life of a warrior.

The song inspired a bout of welcome storytelling by Emerson, who recalled his friendship with the late Dr. Bob Moog, and he impressed Moog was with Emerson’s work with the modular synthesizer. Emerson confessed to not always being a synth savant. Like many English musicians, he wasn’t familiar with the power of the instrument until hearing Wendy Carlos’ “Switched on Bach,” but then he couldn’t wait to explore the power of the synthesizer. Still, in his very first days with the synthesizer, he required assistance from his friend Mike Vickers of Manfred Mann to set it up.

It was a strong and entertaining outing from the Keith Emerson Band, and a relief to experience something quite different than available at most other sites at Moogfest. Emerson capped off his appearances at Moogfest by introducing, in partnership with Moog Music, a recreation of the towering Emerson Moog Modular, three years in the making. Moog Music announced its intention to make a handful of the recreations for sale to the public.

After Emerson’s performance, I bounced across town to New Earth Asheville, a concert hall that was a bit further than most others, giving it a feel of being somewhat remote, although I was able to walk there in 20 minutes. As I was about to post this blog, it seems New Earth Asheville has changed its name to New Mountain Asheville? I’ll continue to refer to it as New Earth here.

With a separate side stage and a capacity at about 600, New Earth feels a lot like D.C.’s Black Cat (which has a slightly greater mainstage capacity of about 700)–except that it’s blacker than the Black Cat. To paraphrase Ford Prefect onboard Hotblack Desiato’s spaceship on the Restaurant at the End of the Universe. I entered a black room under black light, slid to a black bar and drank a presumably black drink that tasted remarkably like the innocently lovely (and not black) ale called Rocket Girl from the Asheville Brewing Co.

I entered the main room as Dan Deacon was closing up his set. I generally don’t have much enthusiasm for Deacon and similar DJs, but the guy really was really amazing with crowd control. His banter was clear and distinct, and he used the last minutes of his set to organize a dance line that went through the room and up the stairs to the balcony level. Yacht, the band that followed, were a revelation.

Claire Evans of Yacht wows the crowd (Photo courtesy Moogfest)

Claire Evans of Yacht wows the crowd (Photo courtesy Moogfest)

Los Angeles band Yacht, which released its last few records on DFA, may not have had a new release in the past few years, but they were amazing live. They were entirely new to me, although I had merely heard of them as a DFA act previously.

Jona Bechtolt and Claire Evans, along with Rob Kieswetter and Jeffrey Brodsky, were natural performers who put on a great show. Bechtolt is a versatile and talented musician who was born to play. Evans is a vision who has been compared to Annie Lennox. Her voice, while fantastic, isn’t quite in that league but she sounded strong and looked lovely.

I totally lost myself to their music and danced my heart out, which means I completely failed to take any notes whatsoever on their actual songs. But their catalog includes the fun singalong “Shangri-La,” about traveling to ideal places; “I Walked Alone,” a disco jam about the nature of the world and life; and “Psychic City (Voodoo City),” a dreamy glitchpop celebration of getting together with other people (apparently!)

The crowd ate up Yacht’s disco power, and I left feeling exhilarated.

Come back one more time tomorrow for my third and final installment of my Moogfest experience.

Mickey

Mickey reviews music shows. He loves a good new wave song, new or old — call it new wave, next wave, now wave. Mickey also enjoys guitar-driven punk and synth-wave new romanticism. The new wave lies in the vast space between. Follow him on Twitter, as he hops around town and talks about music.

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