Moon Duo at Thalia Hall

By Lucas Kaplan

20 Nov, 2019

Moon Duo operates from within a hazy cloud, making psychedelic/space rock-y soundscapes of alternate dimensions, with heavily saturated guitars and repetitive rhythms. Formed by Portlandians Ripley Johnson and Sanae Yamada, Moon Duo has quietly but consistently created an impressive catalogue over the last decade that has gone fairly under the radar. Their most recent album, Stars are the Light, combines a modern, lo-fi aesthetic with more laidback acoustic influences. Basically, when humans inevitably colonize Mars, Stars are the Light should be playing in the background of every coffee shop or local bookstore. 

The relatively low key night at Thalia Hall started off with local Chicago artist Jimmy Lacy, known as SiP, an electronic, vaporwave-like producer. According to Lacy, “SiP’s music looks to create moments of communal space and contemplation as well as participate and contribute to the rich musical community of Chicago.” That artistic mission statement perfectly describes what SiP lent to the atmosphere before Moon Duo took the stage; the crowd filed in, finished their drinks, and made quiet conversation as Lacy filled the air with overlapping but simple melodies. Clearly, the description Lacy provides of his music already depicts his opening act more accurately than anything else I could say, and he very much set the tone for Moon Duo’s eclectic performance.

Accompanied by tour drummer John Jeffery, Moon Duo took the stage and only added to their hazy aesthetic, performing behind transparent walls. The visuals you would expect to accompany a tour promoting Stars are the Light were projected through the space, and Thalia Hall effectively transformed into some sort of planetary exhibit for their set, as each of Moon Duo’s 11 space-rock songs were paired with a different visual aesthetic. 

Moon Duo’s studio vocal performances are not meant to stand out from the instrumentation, but simply to add another layer to the cloudy world of sound. The live vocal performances were even less salient, often sounding like ambient noise, as it was a strain on the ears to make out each word. Ultimately, though, trying to heighten your senses is the antithesis of what makes listening to Moon Duo enjoyable, and they know that. Their show is not just an auditory experience; it’s a complete form of sensory entertainment, and you have to let your senses breathe and allow yourself to become lost in the combination of the intricate melodies and swirling lights. It is a classic psychedelic theme that does justice, as it feels more deliberate than Moon Duo simply designing lights that just look cool. 

Although they have not (yet) found mainstream popularity, Johnson and Yamada performed what felt like a satisfying career retrospective, especially for any newcomers. The standouts of the more relaxed Stars are the Light took up the beginning, middle, and end of their set, but career notables like “I Been Gone,” “Night Beat,” and “Jukebox Babe” (as the encore) filled the rest of the space, which all have less lounge-y vibes, but more crunchy rock influences. Considering the general trippiness and designed repetitiveness that psychedelic rock entails, I appreciated the diverse sounds and eras of Moon Duo that were incorporated into the show. Just as is the case with much of their catalogue, Moon Duo twisted simple concepts and ideas to create a mind-warping reality inside Thalia Hall, and the quality of their live performance only enriched the experience that much more.  

 

SET LIST:

  1. Flying
  2. The World and the Sun
  3. Cold Fear
  4. I Been Gone
  5. White Rose
  6. Eternal Shore
  7. Fever Night
  8. Night Beat
  9. Cult of Moloch
  10. Lost Heads
  11. Jukebox Babe (Encore)