Tonight is my first visit to Salford’s eccentric White Hotel venue. Secreted amidst an industrial estate a short walk north of Manchester’s city centre, the action is hidden behind a nondescript flat white garage exterior, with only a slow trickle of hipster arrivals betraying any sign of what might be happening within its walls.
Once inside, it is immediately clear that the stage is raised no more than a foot off the ground, so those of us in the bulging crowd who are neither frustratingly tall nor lucky enough to be in the first few rows are left to strain our necks or make peace with just listening. The sound itself is subject to the room’s acoustics, which primarily consists of brick walls and rows of cushions stapled to the ceiling. It is consequently somewhat muffled, lacking the volume or clarity that a band as coveted as Moon Duo deserve.
That is to say nothing about the performance of the said band, though. They are live veterans in Manchester, despite being based over 5000 miles away in San Francisco, and this show comes less than a year since they filled Band on the Wall last Spring. In the meantime, they have released a double album, Occult Architecture, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, which has seen them delve further into their signature twin light/dark personae, each volume representing one side of the Taoist Yin and Yang dichotomy. Both halves are explored in some detail tonight and on this occasion, the dark wins out.
Two blinding, piercing, dancing bolts of light grow like horns from out of the stage, leaving nothing but silhouettes of Moon Duo’s two creative forces: the guitar-slinging, resplendently bearded Ripley Johnson on one side and spider-fingered keyboard tickler Sanae Yamada on the other. So intense is the stew of light, smoke and sound that drummer John Jeffrey is literally invisible from my vantage point. From the first moment, heads start nodding, slowly and casually at first, eventually unpreventably.
The notion of songs starting and stopping begins to lose all meaning after fifteen minutes or so, what an old-fashioned concept anyway. There were brief moments of quiet I suppose, which certainly were never filled by any chatty interludes from the stage – Moon Duo don’t want to break the spell any more than we want it broken. ‘Creepin’’ provides one moment of recognition, as well as a rare moment for Yamada’s keys to step out into the fore of the mix. More typical is the towering, slaying cacophony of ‘Cult of Moloch’ that rounds out the main set, reaching a climax of volume and intensity.
Johnson for once does speak to us at its climax, primarily to explain that this next bit will be the encore. Good thing he mentioned it, because all the usual signs weren’t there. He also explains that they’re going to round out the night with a pair of cover versions: first, ‘Juke Box Babe’ by Suicide’s Alan Vega, which is another chance for Yamada to sprinkle trebly keyboard melodies out into the room; secondly is The Stooges’ ‘No Fun’, one last guitar freakout for Johnson that would do Ron Asheton proud.
Even with the re-emergence of Johnson’s other band Wooden Shjips already this year, you can expect that Moon Duo will be back exploring some Greater Manchester backwaters before long, so set all of your reminders. Everyone should see them at least once.
Photo credit: Oliver Bourgi