Not many bands can take the stage after the Charriots Of Fire theme plays. It’s a tough song to follow with its slow build, its rising intensity, and its oddly triumphant piano part. It takes either a wicked sense of humor or a deluded sense of grandeur to make such an auspicious entrance work, but somehow Moonface pulled it off on Saturday night at the Bowery Ballroom, taking the stage following the epic swell of Vangelis’s iconic score.
Moonface is the solo project of erstwhile Sunset Rubdown frontman and Wolf Parade co-hort Spencer Krug, but the version of the band that played Saturday night was the same one that crafted Heartbreaking Bravery, the group’s latest album which was created in collaboration with the Finnish krautrock band Siinai. Though the pairing may not seem like a perfect fit—Krug is known for twitchy neurosis and literary lyrics, while Siinai can conjure smokey instrumental anthems at will— the record itself is a captivating beast: proud yet wounded, cavernous yet intimate, mystical yet modern.
“Cheers!” said Krug, at the beginning of the show, raising his Red Stripe bottle like he was at a Medieval feast. With his long, scraggly hair and baggy shirt, he looked more like a teenage Rush fanatic than a knight from Beowulf, but the music quickly took an other-worldly turn. Kicking off with a slow-build version of the album stand-out “Shitty City,” the stage was bathed in pink and purple light as the members of Siinai locked into the song’s rumbling guitar loop and its pummeling drums. Oh man, the drums. Seemingly every song was given thunderous life by the drummer’s precise, full-bodied playing, his arms coiling in and out with every hit. On the over-8-minute brusier “Headed For The Door,” the drummer began with an insistent and isolated thwack that soon conjured a whole world of black lights and regret. The song reached its absurd climax with Krug holding a book in hand and reading a section from it to the rapturous audience. That’s how psyched the crowd was: they cheered for a book.
With such an expert band behind him, Krug was freed up to engage in bits of isolated whimsy, often playing only a tambourine on songs that didn’t require his guitar or synth flourishes. At times he tentatively stalked the stage with only the microphone, showing all the confidence of a gazel inching into traffic. He thanked the crowd. He did that yodeling thing he kinda does. For the encore the band played the “only other song we know,” which turned out to be a cover of CCR’s “Run Through The Jungle,” which was quickly transformed into a hypnotic, kraut-stomp. That’s how consistent these guys were: even an American classic rock staple was susceptible to the group’s all-encompassing “WOOSH!”