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Moon Duo Playing Folk Yeah Show At Cafe Stritch

In Music
Psych rock band Moon Duo have added a third member to their lineup—drummer John Jeffrey (left). They play Cafe Stritch on Oct. 11.

Psych rock band Moon Duo have added a third member to their lineup—drummer John Jeffrey (left). They play Cafe Stritch on Oct. 11.

When Ripley Johnson and Sanae Yamada first began making music together as Moon Duo, they didn’t set too many parameters for themselves or what the group could be. “I think initially, we didn’t want to define it so much,” Yamada says. “It was more asking the question, where can we take music with just two people trying to play rock. We tried not set any limitations or strict boundaries.”

According to Yamada, keyboardist, drum machine maestro and knob-twiddler for Moon Duo, she and her musical/romantic partner just wanted to give themselves the freedom to do whatever—even if that meant turning Moon Duo into a trio. And so they did.

While touring Europe last summer, the San Francisco-bred psych rock outfit hired drummer John Jeffrey—after a glowing endorsement from their manager, and without an official audition.

“We’d been doing what we’d been doing with the drum machine for a while, and I think we were both ready for something new and fresh,” Yamada says, explaining Moon Duo’s decision to take on Jeffrey. “We just sort of took a gamble, and it ended up being really great.”

Yamada and Johnson quickly found a kindred spirit in Jeffrey. And as the band grew tighter, Yamada says they began thinking about documenting their evolving sound. “The musical chemistry was building throughout the course of the tour, so we thought we should try to record some of the shows and see if anything good comes from it,” she says.

The San Francisco-bred psych outfit had been mulling the idea of recording a live album for a while, Yamada says. They had just never felt like the time was right until Jeffrey came along.

Releasing a live record didn’t make much sense when the band was still using programmed drum loops, Yamada explains, noting that drum machines aren’t known for their improvisational spontaneity. “To me, the best live records are the ones that sound better than the studio recordings.”

In early September, Moon Duo released the six-song Live In Ravenna, recorded one blisteringly hot night in the northwestern Italian city named in the album’s title. And this Saturday, Moon Duo will bring Jeffrey, along with a stack of limited edition vinyl pressings of Live In Ravenna, to Café Stritch, where they will headline yet another (((folkYEAH!)))-hosted show at the SoFA venue.

The show will mark one of the first times that Moon Duo has ever played in the U.S. with a live drummer. Yamada says she is “psyched” to play in the States again after several trips through Europe. Moon Duo fans should be excited too—both to hear the new lineup live, and to grab a copy of the limited edition vinyl pressing of Live In Ravenna, which the band will be selling at their merch booth.

Live In Ravenna is imbued with a different kind of energy than any other Moon Duo collection, and much of that is clearly due to Jeffrey—and his free will. As a drummer, he demonstrates great discipline in holding to the repetitive patterns originally programmed by Moon Duo. Even so, the human behind the beat shines through in both a hard-to-qualify energy and in Jeffrey’s occasional off-script fills and flourishes.

The versions on the live album also feel more urgent and visceral, which may also be due to human imperfection and the tendency for live performances to be a bit faster than their studio counterparts.

While the title track of Moon Duo’s Mazes sort of hops and skips to a start, with the drum machine’s kick-snare beat and Johnson’s guitar bound tightly together. The Ravenna version, on the other hand, positively explodes—the rattling, rumbling, roaring tom-tom whacks of Jeffrey’s kit fight against the fuzz of Johnson’s guitar, which is so drenched in reverb that the chord changes are less distinct, and more like a flowing river of fuzz.

Moon Duo is in the midst of finishing up their their third full-length album, which is slated for release sometime next spring. They play Cafe Stritch on Oct. 11 at 8pm. More info.

Watch Moon Duo’s video for Sleepwalker here:

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