The sun was shining in Durham, NC, last weekend, and Moogfest 2016 was well underway! There were shows to review at this, the premiere music festival dedicated to the synthesizer, and I hopped straight to reviewing them.
I spent a lot of my time at Moogfest around what I guess would be the north end of the central downtown area in Durham, as Motorco Music Hall and its adjoining Motorco Park hosted a lot of the most interesting shows on the agenda. And it was well situated near other bars and the best downtown barbecue restaurant, The Pit.
While at Motorco Park on Friday, May 20, for the second day of Moogfest, I was introduced to Los Angeles noise rock trio HEALTH.
“Wow,” I said when I saw them. “That guy is playing his synthesizer ON THE GROUND.”
And indeed John Famiglietti of HEALTH switched up from bass to synth, swinging the bass around to his back to swoop down on the synthesizer rig in front of him, laid flat on a plastic crate. As a man fond of big cinematic flourishes, he may have been the star player in this specific show by his band HEALTH.
That’s not to say that John could do this show single-handedly! He was capably met, and balanced, by frontman Jake Duzsik, who sang in a manner occasionally evocative of New Order’s Barney Sumner and also played some dazzling guitar. Side by side, Jake and John present quite the team, effortlessly merging dynamic rock with sweeping electronics. (Drummer Benjamin Jared Miller was good as well!)
Clad in black and given to generating a great deal of glorious noise, HEALTH may strike the casual observer as a “goth” band. I’m going to acknowledge such an inevitability but point out how witty, fun, and accessible the songs by HEALTH can be. New songs from their recent album Death Magic, released on Loma Vista Recordings, caught the crowd’s ear — songs like “L.A. Looks,” a churning synthpop pleaser with a semi-confessional lyric in its refrain: “It’s not love but I still want you.”
Another new song played by HEALTH, “Dark Enough,” ponders life and love with steady, pulsating waves of dreamy beats. In contrast to that, its tracklist-partner “Stonefist” is a pounding rock song with a recurring ominous chord progression that speaks lyrically of growing old and never looking back.
All in all, HEALTH were very entertaining, and a great live band. Jake rises and collapses with his vocals, alternatively whipping way from his mic with his guitar, while John is a beast of a musician, slapping the bass in one moment and swooping down like a raven upon his synths in the next moment, his long hair obscuring his face and lending an even greater sense of mystery to the proceedings.
Here are a few pictures of HEALTH performing at Motorco Park in Durham, NC, on Friday, May 20, 2016.
I stayed put after HEALTH to catch a performance by art pop diva Grimes at Motorco Park. Having released her fifth album, Art Angels, late last year, Grimes has officially hit the mainstream. She sold out the 9:30 Club in DC about 10 days ago, hit the Sweetlife Festival locally, and proved a big sensation on the second day of Moogfest 2016.
For Moogfest, Grimes performed at Motorco Park in Durham, NC, on Friday, May 20, 2016, and the place went insane. People clamored for a better view of the awkward, shy singer, who has become more and more musically accessible throughout her career.
At Moogfest, she gave the audience quite a lot of Art Angels, starting her set with “REALiTi.” Interestingly, Moogfest also hosted “an interactive installation, powered by Microsoft Kinect technology,” which was dubbed “REALiTi” after the song, in a trailer that allowed people to immerse themselves in a room playing the music of Grimes (born Claire Boucher).
Using the Microsoft motion-sensing technology, the installation allowed people to “feel” the music through specially designed speakers. It was an interesting concept.
Grimes was an engaging performer and a charmingly awkward host, given to talking fast, occasionally stumbling over words, and flashing a wide smile before intermittently retreating to her synths to let some hip-hop styled dancing girls take the front of the stage. Throughout her show, she also performed audience favorites “Genesis” and “Oblivion” from her popular 2012 album, Visions, and closed with “Kill v. Maim” from the new album.
The songs represent the best of her catalog, in my opinion, as Grimes moved away from house and more to dreampop over her career.
Here are a few pictures of Grimes performing at Motorco Park during Moogfest.
After Grimes, I moved across downtown for a second night of Gary Numan, who was now playing at Fletcher Hall at the Carolina Theatre.
Whereas on the first night of his Moogfest residency Gary Numan played a lot of guitar, on the second night, he played a lot of synthesizer. With as much passion as ever, Gary threw himself across a Virus TI imbuing warmth into crystalline synthpop.
Hewing mostly to the tracklist order, Gary continued his Moogfest residency with a night dedicated to his album The Pleasure Principle. The Pleasure Principle, the second of three albums in Gary’s “Machine Trilogy,” is easily the most universally recognized of his early records in part because of the still-ubiquitous hit single “Cars,” which he performed with as much fervor as ever at the midpoint of his set.
The album also contains popular selections “Metal” and “Films,” roundly supporting its position as a favorite among Gary’s admirers as well. Gary put his heart into each of the songs, swinging up to his microphone after later leaving his synthesizer station and often singing to the sky like a man seeking redemption from the heavens.
After the 10 songs of The Pleasure Principle, Gary treats the full house of Fletcher Hall to “Down in the Park” and “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?” from Replicas, and gives a sneak peek of his third night with “I Die: You Die” from Telekon, the final album of the trilogy.
I hailed the first night of performance as a rock show, and this show distinguishes itself with a much more tribal character. Gary and the band move in time with synthesized pulses, and the light show explodes in pure beams of white light, breaking up the intense single color lights that dominated the first night.
I had an opportunity to greet the lighting engineer after the first night’s show, and I must say the fellow absolutely should take a bow alongside Gary and the band, as the lightshow is complimentary, complementary and all-around spectacular. Instead of just being lights for the sake of laser beams as in so many shows these days, Gary’s lighting director was more interested in treating the concert performances as a stage play, albeit a stage play full of enthralling musical numbers, and he lit up the band in appropriately dramatic fashion.
Here are a few pictures of Gary performing at the Carolina Theatre in Durham, NC, on Friday, May 20, 2016. Check back with us tomorrow for a last day of Moogfest coverage!