Moonface. Moe’s. 03.02.14

Moonface

Moonface is Spencer Krug. Spencer Krug is Moonface. This has never been more apparent than it was at Moe’s last night. Gone were the festival-sized synths and guitars of Wolf Parade. Gone were the psychedelic sounds of Sunset Rubdown. Gone were his fellow percussion nerds. And gone were his friends in Siinai. The Canadian, who now calls Finland home, was alone on the stage with nothing but a stool, an out of tune piano, a shot of whiskey, a Newcastle, and the smell of BBQ ribs to keep him company. Blend those elements together and spread some “cheesy love songs” on top and you’ve got the gist of the performance last night — the gist, but not the whole picture. There was an emotional level to the show that cannot be described in words. The soul of the performance was something that existed in the moment. It was not something you could wrap up and take with you. I think that was by design, and it might explain why there were no t-shirts for sale — no merch booth, no ticket stubs, no souvenirs from Spencer’s heartbreak. Some people took video, and I’m not one who has a problem with that, but if there was one show that cannot be truly experienced on youtube, it was Moonface Solo Piano.

Julia With Blue Jeans On was the center of the show. Spencer performed every song from that album, although not in order. I’m sure there were a few in the small crowd that didn’t appreciate the lack of variety in the set, but coming from someone who is obsessed with that album, the performance was exactly what I wanted it to be. I’ve seen Wolf Parade and Sunset Rubdown a handful of times each. I also saw (and interviewed) Moonface on the Organ Music Tour. I know the experimental side of Spencer Krug. I appreciate the genius in all of his previous albums, but I also find it extremely brave to strip away all the layers and expose the voice and talent within. When I spoke with him at Larimer Lounge in 2011, he mentioned wanting to record “a folk record — pick up an acoustic guitar and do some singer-songwriter kinda bullshit.” As interesting as that may have been (or will be), as a classically trained pianist, I think the piano route was the smarter move. The lyrics and life experiences on Julia would have been just as interesting if put to an acoustic guitar, but I don’t believe they would have been nearly as powerful. Watching Krug on the keys last night was hypnotizing. Sure, you could hear every creak and crack of the old piano, but that just added to the authenticity of the performance. And even though he had a few issues with the sound of his own vocals, they were pitch perfect and crystal clear to those of us in front of the stage.

Although pouring his heart out into his music doesn’t seem to be an issue, Spencer is quite shy when it comes to interaction with his fans. He could be found walking around the venue, or out back smoking, before the show — usually with his head down, slightly hiding his features in the shadow of his long hair. When he took the stage, he announced that we was “over being awkward“, before digging right in to “Love the House You’re In” — as if trying to convince himself to love being under the lights in a BBQ joint called Moe’s

Spencer Krug

I regretfully withdraw my offer
To try to improve myself
I sincerely believe the results
Would be a disaster

The artist became quite conversational after that first song, turning the performance into a ‘storytellers’ event of sorts. “Black is Back in Style” was prefaced by a sort explanation of how the song came to be —  a friend and him were bitching about ex-girlfriends while driving to Salt Lake City and they got so caught up in the conversation that they missed the city by about 50 miles. Before Barbarian I & II (one bled into the other, as if they were two parts of a single song), we received an apology for the sound check that was happening during the performance — “we woke up late because we are lazy…and then we drove here real slow“. “November 2011” was introduced as the “cheesiest song” on an album of “cheesy love songs“, and those in the audience who were uncomfortable with PDA were welcome to excuse themselves for 10 minutes or so. This was also the point in the show when he asked that the lights be turned down so we could just pretend that he wasn’t there. This self-deprecation could have come across as crass by any other artist, but the way Spencer presented it, it came across as funny…and honest.

“Dreamy Summer” and “Everyone Is Noah…” are two on my favorite lyrics on the album, but they are also special because they really show off what he is capable of on the piano. Watching his fingers roll across the keys while he belted out “I don’t know…if I can call this home!” from under a mane of hair, sent a few of the female patrons into a frenzy…including my wife. At one point in the evening he asked how much longer he should keep playing, to which my wife answered “until you make me cry“. I said he shouldn’t stop until he performed “Coming To At Dawn”. Unfortunately, he didn’t remember how to play that obscure Sunset Rubdown song. He explained, “I’m like a dog, all that is real is what is in front of me“. He might not have been able to grant my request, but my wife got her wish with the title track.

I’d say the only word worth singing
Is a name
I’d say the only name worth singing
Is not ‘God’
It’s you
Julia
As beautiful, and simple as the sun
Julia with blue jeans on

I have heard people compare the new album to Tori Amos with balls. I think they meant that as an insult. I would agree with that statement, but I mean it as a compliment. I can’t respect anyone who doesn’t respect Tori Amos’s talent. But if Spencer Krug were just a male version of Amos, I’m not sure he would be among my favorite artists working today. The path that led to this piano-driven album was a necessary one. And I’m guessing that the path that follows will be unlike anything we’ve heard before. Spencer Krug was the brains behind one of the biggest, most influential “indie” bands of the 00’s. He has released over 18 albums under various names. Not one of them sounds like the one that came before or the one that came after. Moonface is just a name. It is not a style or genre. Moonface is Spencer Krug. Spencer Krug is Moonface. And I’m glad I got to see him play the piano in the back of a BBQ joint this time around.

Spencer Setlist:
Love the House You’re In
Black is Back in Style
Barbarian
Barbarian II
November 2011
Dreamy Summer
Everyone is Noah, Everyone is the Ark
Your Chariot Awaits
First Violin
New Song [Jenny Lee/City Wrecker] Julia with Blue Jeans On

New Song [about moving from Montreal to Helsinki]

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Setlist