Humans need three things to survive: air, water and food. New York City’s dance-trio Moon Hooch only need three things to thrive: two saxophones and drums. Wednesday night in the Crystal Bay Casino, Moon Hooch played to a packed Red Room and their organic house music shook the foundation of everyone in attendance.
The two saxophones and drum set looked minimal sitting vacantly on stage, but once Mike Wilbur, Wenzel McGowen and James Muschler assumed their positions behind the instruments, they immediately turned the intensity of the night up to 11 and then broke the dial, never looking back. Wilbur played a beautiful and subdued intro on his tenor saxophone that brought to mind a starry night in Brooklyn, before McGowen on baritone saxophone and Muschler on drums crashed into him and the trio took off with blistering horns and pulsating drums like a runaway subway train.
Moon Hooch makes music that is fit for underground raves. It is primitive, immediate and driven by pure energy. The title of its latest album, “This is Cave Music,” embodies the Moon Hooch sound and live show. The trio pounded the audience with an onslaught of glitchy melodies that would crescendo in sultry sax whirlings before diving into primal freakouts. The music has the hard and constant rhythm, peaking grooves and bass drops of house and dubstep music, but it is all done with instruments in real time, and has an intensity that can’t be matched by a computer.
Wilbur and McGowen were a fantastic team, playing off each other and the crowd’s energy, and whipped the audience into a frenzy whenever they squared off with dueling saxophones. “St. Louis,” a song from the new album, saw the duo intertwine blistering staccato trills with a lovely, jazzy hook that dropped into a dubstep beat in which Wilbur sang “You don’t need anything but love,” as fans slipped into the grimey groove. “Ewi” pounded away like an industrial jackhammer, then floated along on Wilbur’s airy saxophone, before collapsing into Muschler’s heaviest beat of the night. The band loved to explore both the elegance and dissonance within their songs, and the constant back and forth kept the crowd ravenous for more.
The horns were the focal point of the night, but Muschler was the horsepower for all of Wilbur and McGowen’s charging melodies. His drumming had the timing of a drum machine and he keep the band moving with his efficient power. At one point, McGowen strapped on his contrabass clarinet, which had a flatter and thicker sound than his saxophone, and began soloing into an orange traffic cone. The showmanship and otherworldly sound pumped the audience into a frenzy. But Muschler didn’t scant on his chance to propel the rave forward, and his dance-drum solo later in the night was one of the highlights.
Moon Hooch put on an outstanding show at the Red Room that showcased its bombastic dance music. The fans locked into Moon Hooch’s groove from the start and were left sweaty and bewildered on the dance floor when the band took its final bows. But I don’t think they would have had it any other way.
– Garrett Bethmann, Tahoe Onstage
ABOUT Garrett Bethmann
Garrett Bethmann is a graduate of University of Mary Washington with a degree in English. An eight-year resident of Lake Tahoe, he now lives in Denver, Colorado.