Sensory Overload: St. Moses the Black
Back in July, I called St. Moses the Black's debut 7-inch "a revelation akin to a burning bush in a barren landscape." I was taken aback by their way with vocal harmonies, their inventive arrangements and the record's overall sonic scope - it sounds like a mirage, but it hits like the real world.
The vocals wafted toward heaven like puffs of smoke. Rhodes piano riffs tumbled across "Pangaea" like fireworks' wispy last gasps. The hazy, dragging guitar chords on "West of Tolovana" built tension like a muffler dragging behind a hearse. It was gorgeous stuff. Why wasn't anybody talking about these guys, I wondered?
I've been geeking out about that record since summertime, but every time I planned to check them out live, something came up. When they played Circus last Wednesday night, I encountered St. Moses in the flesh at long last.
First of all, kudos to the sound guy for making the bands sound good in a room that has puzzled plenty of engineers since the bar's days as the High Five. It's not easy to nail the mix in there, but St. Moses and Monolithic Cloud Parade before them sounded big and bold without veering into insufferable feedback.
That sonic clarity would have served St. Moses' soft-focus harmonies well, but the band's current incarnation doesn't allow for anybody besides Rhodes specialist D.J. Fitzgerald on vocals. The absence of Brian Wilson-inspired vocal euphoria definitely hurt, but it wasn't a knockout blow.
Though they didn't have multiple voices on the mike, they did have two sets of arms banging drums, with Brock Ailes and Omar Chacra seated behind dual drum sets and Chacra often moving front and center to bash marching-band-style on a bass drum. The band's recordings hinted at these percussive powers, but their stage show shifted the focus more fully from melody to rhythm.
This wasn't a standard power-over-finesse situation, though. Even with all the percussion, St. Moses' songs are still relatively sleepy, and not necessarily in a bad way. Watching Chacra hunched over a bass drum, shaker in hand, grooving to his band's psych-pop jams, it became clear that the rhythm work here is as nimble as Fitzgerald's lilting vocal melodies.
Charlie Baker's bass and baritone guitar work accounts for most of the noisemaking; all the shakes and rattles are just more of the subtle tweaks that make St. Moses' cloud so fun to float around in.
Now, don't go thinking the show was perfection. Like I said, they'd be well-served to add a backup singer as soon as possible, especially one who can wield an instrument to make the band sound fuller and more majestic. But had I not already fallen in love with their record, this set would have still been enough to turn my head.
St. Moses the Black
When: 10 p.m. Friday, Nov. 13
Where: Skully's Music Diner, Short North