Poor Moon – The Wilbur Theater, Boston 15/10/12

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Even though the majority of people here tonight seem to have primarily come to see beautiful dream-poppers Beach House, those who arrive early get to witness something spectacular in Sub Pop/Bella Union label mates Poor Moon.

At first glance, this band doesn’t appear to take much seriously: Poor Moon’s mastermind Christian Wargo (also of Fleet Foxes) is wearing a trapper hat—you know, the kind of hat they wear in the movie Fargo or that Kyle of South Park is distinguished by; bandmember Ian Murray is wearing a red snowcap, with a flannel shirt (over a T-shirt of kittens), and—this is true—a saxophone earring.  The earring aside, these guys seem prepared for winter, but the music they perform couldn’t be further from the season.

Most every song feels like it has been written with the glockenspiel in mind, which makes sense, as Wargo makes good use of it as part of Fleet Foxes.  The melodies are often breezy, but never laidback.  There are at least two active multi-instrumentalists in the group, one being the aforementioned Murray (his brother Peter plays bass), the other being Casey Wescott (also of Fleet Foxes).  It’s a real sight to see these two juggle their instruments—Wescott switching between glockenspiel, keyboards, and percussion, and Murray switching between electric guitar, mandolin, keyboards, and percussion as well.

Murray spends much of his time sitting at the keyboard, with a mandolin strapped over his shoulder, and a shaker in one hand but then, as the band breathlessly shift instruments and stage positions as songs overlap and segue into one another you can’t help but think that these guys could double as acrobats. It’s a real treat to watch: You look away for only a few seconds before turning back to discover a band member onstage suddenly wielding this bell-mechanism, where before he was holding something completely different.

What appears to make Poor Moon most uncomfortable is silence.  While they take a moment to tune up, Wargo jokes, “This is one of our many tuning portions of the show.  You guys are into this, right?” And how those instruments must need tuning, as deliberately as they are played.  What make these songs really come alive are all the candy-coated layers of nuanced instrumentation, making each simple sequence of notes glow with warmth.

They play ‘People in Her Mind’ from their first EP and it sounds like we’ve been transported to a Zombies concert, with ice cream truck glockenspiels, evocative guitar lines, and a descending major-chord chorus—all of which reek with the traditions of years past. At several points in the show it feels like you’ve been sent back to 1968, and that’s not just because Poor Moon sneak a cover of The Kinks ’Sitting by the Riverside’ (from their 1968 classic The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society) into their set, to the absolutely delight of this reviewer, but because their ideals just seem to be fixed on the things about music from that time that can’t help but make us irrevocably happy.

Poor Moon play happy songs, the only possible exception being a somewhat-dark number from their recent LP called ‘Heaven’s Door’ which, with chirping organs and mysteriously under-stated guitar lines, sounds a bit like a Strange Days-era Doors song. On the flipside of that is ‘Phantom Light’ which contains all sorts of textural wonders—a mini washboard, a shaker and a harpsichord breakdown in the middle. All the while Wargo stands firmly in the middle of his tightly-knit band with his acoustic guitar and voice aimed directly at the upper tiers.

These guys can certainly belt out harmonies, which they do no more perfectly than in ‘Cloud Below’ as Wargo, Wescott, and Murray, (the core units of this band), are abandoned by the drummer and bassist to leave a structure built solely of acoustic and electric guitar, harmonised whistles, and  a pile of voices.  The voices stand strong by themselves, and soon find themselves greeted by even stronger applause.