I knew very little about Willy Moon before going to see him last night at Schubas. What I did know is mostly common knowledge-his song “Yeah Yeah” was used in a recent iPod commercial, his star is rising quickly, and one of his early singles released in the US, “Railroad Track,” was put out by Third Man Records (which is really all I needed to be convinced). After deciding to take the plunge and head over to the venue to check him out, I watched a couple videos on YouTube. From what I could tell, he seemed to be an incredible performer, so as the hour drew nearer I was actually pretty excited to check him out.
The opener for the show was Chicago’s own blues/rcok group The Outfit. They did a great job opening, especially lead singer/keyboardist Lesleigh Arratia, whose vocal pyrotechnics really blew me away. Brian Weinert did a fine job singing as well, but it was his slide guitar performance that impressed me. They’ve only been together for about a year, but they were as tight as anyone I’ve seen lately. I only had two issues with the set: 1. Everything song felt the same. The only big dynamic shift came late in the set on “Moody Weather.” Maybe it was the short set length, or the fact that they were playing all brand new songs, but it was a little bit one-note (a good note, though). 2. This one is just me nit-picking, but their violinist Alana couldn’t be heard most of the time. A few songs in, she really got to show off a little. For effect, I would have had her stay off the stage, and then call her up for that song and then have her stay.
All in all it was a great way to kick off the night. Then there was a long wait. At least 45 minutes went by before we were ready to start up again. I think there may have been some kind of electric problem, because Willy Moon’s tour manager was messing with some stuff for a long time. During this interstitial the crowd grew, and I knew they were thinking the same thing I was-this is going to be something really special.
Moon’s band came to the stage first. In the videos I watched, he had a DJ, but that wasn’t the case for this show. His guitarist came up first, a tall and gaunt fellow-cloaked in a black like Steve Jobs. Following was his drummer, who looks like a mix of Karen O and Sharon Van Etten. She definitely adds a punk rock feel to the stage, with her intimidating power on the snare and bass. Finally, Moon arrived, togged to the bricks as always. Part of his image is his black suit, and he pulls it off better than most.
The set kicked off with a eardrum-shattering version of Jack White’s take on Rudy Toombs “I’m Shakin’.” It took all of about five seconds to know that this guy is the real deal. From his rockabilly/hip-hop sound in what I had heard before, I still had a lingering feeling that he might be the next Jimmy Ray. All concerns were washed away . Moon’s vocal delivery is a combination of early Elvis and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, and he screams and shouts with the best of them.
My favorite moment of the whole show came, I think, right after this song. Moon thanked the crowd and someone in the audience yelled “Take off your toupee!” Without missing a beat, he looked out and said “Why don’t you come up here and take it off for me, motherfucker.” His stage presence is undeniable. Like a prizefighter waiting to take on all comers. Part of me thinks he kinda wanted that guy to accept his challenge. I’m sure Moon is a very nice guy (seems to be in a couple interviews I read), but I would also avoid crossing him. And it’s that little bit of danger that makes his performance all the more enthralling.
The set was short, no surprise since his new LP Here’s Willy Moon is 12 songs and only 29 minutes. He played nine songs at Schubas, and there was very little time for messing around. I was right up against the stage, but I could feel the movement of the crowd behind me, bobbing and weaving along with the animated entertainer. I was already sweating by the time he got to “Yeah Yeah,” and the audience went wild for it. I’m guessing most of those in attendance knew that one song and nothing else, but they sure as hell know what Moon is about now.
Moon ended the show with his newest single, “My Girl.” It isn’t as catchy as “Yeah Yeah,” but it feels more true to what Moon is going for. After the song he thanked the audience, and left the stage. The stage was immediately broken down. A quick peek at his website shows that Moon is in LA today shooting a video for that same new single. No wonder he was in a rush to leave.
Even though it felt like it was over before it started, Moon puts on one helluva show. I’d say as a pure performer he’s right up there with the best. If Justin Timberlake played rock n roll, you’d probably get something very similar. Even though I only knew a couple of the songs, I was completely overwhelmed by how Moon captivates an audience. He only has a handful of dates in the US left before heading over to Europe, but I’m sure he’ll be back soon. Don’t miss him if you get a chance.
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