Local band Moonrunner seals off impressive Blue Note performance

Jake Alden

Image used under fair use doctrine
Image used under fair use doctrine
The local Columbia music scene isn’t just alive and well; it’s flourishing better than it ever has before. One of The Blue Note‘s most recent concerts was a testament to that prosperity, as Columbia music-lovers’ standby concert hall hosted not one, not two, but three local bands, each with their own unique musical flavor.
This mini music festival drew a fairly homogeneous crowd, and at first I felt a little out of place and more than a little emasculated by my lack of a full beard or a classy leather jacket. But The Blue Note’s laid-back atmosphere triumphed in the end, and soon I felt comfortable enough to clamor down from the balcony and tear up the dance floor alongside the rest of the audience.
And it was impossible not to move to the music of the evening’s opener, a two-man, synthesizer-heavy act known as Curtain Co. The psychedelic light show put on by The Blue Note was a perfect companion to Curtain Co.’s music, an electronica rock blend reminiscent of vintage Ratatat or the best songs off of The Dark Side of the Moon. There were good vibes-a-plenty to be had from their bass-heavy beats and their catchy hooks, but if I had one complaint about the evening’s first third, it was repetition.
All of Curtain Co.’s songs fell directly onto either the soothing or the bass-blasting ends of the punk electronica spectrum, and the lines between different songs could sometimes get a little fuzzy. However, while the music began to blur together by the end of Curtain Co.’s act, it was always an upbeat blend that kept the audience on their feet, grooving to some of the catchiest funk beats I’ve heard this side of the Mississippi River.
When Curtain Co. left the stage to thunderous applause, their spots were quickly filled by members of the Columbian indie folk group Mary and the Giant. The night’s second act was a bit of speed bump for the concert as a whole, however, but not for a lack of creating a friendly, upbeat atmosphere or playing some quality music. Mary and the Giant is a band with a high level of technical skill whose members know their way around a guitar or a fiddle. Their songs, however, are fairly derivative of the indie rock genre, and their lyrics aren’t among the most original. They kept many audience members on the floor, myself included, dancing and whirling to their fiddle solos and impressive vocal range, but it never seemed that Mary and the Giant ever climbed out of the box or developed their own style. It was without question a good performance, but it was little bit of a let down after being blown out of the water by Curtain Co.
But the third time always is the charm, and the third act stole the show completely.
Moonrunner is a band born and bred in Columbia that’s a blend of a little bit of bluegrass, a little bit of folk rock and a whole lot of originality. The stage presence alone of the band’s frontmen Nate Haynes and Dave Kemper had the audience going wild, as they regaled the crowd with humor or danced their way across the stage amidst the band’s wildly gripping rockabilly songs. Their natural charisma was perfectly complemented by the entire band’s unified presence and easygoing atmosphere, and West Junior High School teacher David Aulger blew the crowd away with his keyboard magic and soulful harmonica solos.
Halfway through their show, Moonrunner brought a set of three guest backup singers on stage, all Columbia locals who had their own bands but who occasionally collaborate with their Moonrunner colleagues. Calling them “backup singers”, in truth, is hardly fair, as they added a whole new vocal layer to the latter half of Moonrunner’s performance and exhibited the most impressive range displayed the entire evening, as a trio and individually.
Moonrunner also exhibited the greatest range of genre inspiration and song variety the entire evening. They played everything from the haunting but beautiful “Before the War” and the sadly sweet “Tumble Weeds” to the West Coast rock-inspired “California Wine” and the house-shaking Southern rock opera “Two Lost Souls.” “Souls” alone left the crowd momentarily silent before we all broke out into wild applause and held nothing back.
In the end, Moonrunner wasn’t just my favorite band of the night, though even just that would be an achievement; they had, ultimately, plenty of competition amongst the other two acts. However, Moonrunner may be the best new band produced by 2012, and my favorite up-and-coming band for 2013. After the concert, the Blue Note was selling two C.D.’s like hot cakes — the new Moonrunner E.P. and a compilation C.D. with songs from 17 local bands, including Moonrunner, Curtain Co. and Mary and the Giant. Not only are these tracks supporting local groups, but they’re chock full of good tunes and a diverse range of musical vibes. At $2 a pop, they’re also a steal, and it would be a crime for you to miss the opportunity to head downtown sometime soon and get one.
By Jake Alden
Have you seen these bands? What do you think of their music?