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Review: Moon Hooch bring their cracked-out jazz to Hi-Fi



Apart from the novelty riffs of Macklemore’s “Thrift Shop” and its countless copycats — Ariana Grande’s “Problem,” Jason Derulo’s “Talk Dirty” and Fifth Harmony’s “Worth It” — there isn’t enough saxophone in modern pop.

Luckily, Moon Hooch — which just played at the Hi-Fi Music Hall Saturday night — is pulling its weight by employing the sax to its utmost potential. Moon Hooch has traces of EDM in its barbaric and decadent jazz-fusion, but it’s not derivative of these pop artists; it’s more like jazz on crack. Similar to if Kenny G were abducted by aliens, came back and produced a dubstep album — it’s mesmerizing. Words can’t sufficiently sum up a Moon Hooch live show, but it’s the first time I’ve ever strongly related to the hipsters who are losing their minds at the jazz club in that old photograph.

Moon Hooch is a trio: Saxophonists Mike Wilbur and Wenzl McGowe share a kinetic rapport with drummer James Muschler, who lays down a trance-like, rhythmic layer under the woodwind duo. Muschler had a sweaty mop of hair stuck to his face and played the drums with such violence and enthusiasm that he is the closest human representation I’ve ever seen of Animal from the Muppets.

James Muschler of Moon Hooch plays drums in the back of the stage on Saturday night, April 8 at HiFi Music Hall. (Emerson Malone/Emerald).

The two-hour set was something of an endurance challenge, for audience and artist alike. The Moon Hooch catalog is virtually interchangeable; it’s near impossible to tell when one song starts and another one begins because even individual songs halt and change up every few measures. But there was never a moment of silence between tracks, and it was hard to distinguish improvisation from premeditation. At one point, McGowen crammed an orange construction post down the bell of his sax and made that baby purr. In another moment, I’m pretty sure Wilbur solo-played something by Philip Glass for a full minute. It’s not the kind of fare one expects to hear half past midnight at a downtown Eugene bar.

Wenzl McGowen (left) plays the contrabass clarinet while Mike Wilbur (right) plays saxophone during the Moon Hooch show on Saturday night, April 8 at HiFi Music Hall. (Emerson Malone/Emerald).

Wenzl McGowen of Moon Hooch on Saturday, April 8 at HiFi Music Hall. (Emerson Malone/Emerald).

The three met as students at the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music in New York City. The group’s first few gigs were on the street busking on NYC subway platforms, where they inspired plenty of impromptu dance parties before being banned from playing (in at least one station) by the NYPD. (The Moon Hooch saga is published in full on its Bandcamp page.)

Moon Hooch purportedly calls itself “cave music” (/ ˈkāv myo͞ozik / — “like house, but more wild, jagged, more free, more natural to live in.”) It’s even the name of its sophomore 2014 album: “This Is Cave Music.” It makes about as much sense as you would expect from a group that names itself after bootleg liquor procured on the Earth’s natural satellite.

Regardless of terrain — be it cosmic or subterranean — never miss a chance to see Moon Hooch.

Wenzl McGowen of Moon Hooch on Saturday, April 8 at HiFi Music Hall. (Emerson Malone/Emerald).

Wenzl McGowen of Moon Hooch stuffs a construction post into his saxophone during a show on Saturday night, April 8 at HiFi Music Hall. (Emerson Malone/Emerald).

Watch the video for Moon Hooch’s “EWI” below:


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Emerson Malone

Emerson Malone

Podcast producer with The Daily Emerald and student research fellow with the UO-UNESCO Crossings Institute.