Review :: Half Moon Run at The Standard

January 31st 2013

The night started slowly. Empty room. Smoky. Dim. Round, metal tables littered the corners, like some industrial cabaret.

A couple of hip bums filled high chairs; a smattering of alternative conversations teasing the air.

As the spotlight surged and Jordan Millar took to an understated stage, a few crews paused to listen. The atmosphere, however, remained casual. He is relaxed and soulful. Acoustic-meets-charming humility. I’m not sure if I want to buy his album or propose. People sprawled onto the floor, as the entire General Pants catalogue diffused into level three of The Standard. The crowd still hung tentatively to the corners when I popped out with my + 1 to grab a drink. I shuffled back in for I Am Apollo to somewhat of a transformation. Hipsters on their feet, there was hair and a little head-banging as this very Aussie, very raw outfit claimed the room with their uplifting, earthy style of pop-rock.

I personally think it took a teeny bit too long for Half Moon Run to get their behinds on stage, but the trade-in was two very polished and impressive supporting acts. We’d now moved from a lazy, lying on the floor swaying kind of vibe, to squished toes and temporary blindness, as the whip of some girl’s hair sectioned my eyeballs. The elbows in my ribs signalled a band that had made a name for itself quickly since the release of their first album, ‘Dark Eyes’ in March. There was an asphyxiating buzz as the Canadian threesome (+ mysterious extra member) glided into ‘21 Gun Salute’. Portielje’s hypnotic voice pierced the underlying hum of the throbbing electric organ ostinato.

Polyrhythms entered one by one, the bass drum flickering like a heartbeat on acid.

Layers of sound swelled into a kaleidoscopic ocean, individual staccato beats jumping gracefully around sustained synth-strings.

The pace quickened for a sudden and electrifying leap into ‘Call Me In The Afternoon’. The energy was palpable, the bearded and long haired musicians literally hopping from foot to foot as they thrashed one quaver out after another. Images of woodland nymphs and some glorious Canadian Narnia, pagan energy and earthy, raw ritual come to mind; their bodies seemed infused with the complicated rhythm and pure harmonies that exploded from within. If this is all a bit too poetic for you, it was really bloody good. The gradual, artful crescendo of layers that typify their writing was a demanding force live. Harmonies were executed with precision and seamless blend. I stood with eyes closed and let soaring harmonica pass over me with a certain elation that I knew would ring on in my ears once the night faded.

There was a stumble at one point graciously apologised for between songs, but I have to confess, I didn’t even notice. Whilst Half Moon Run’s style is unrestrainedly indie, you’d be mistaken if you thought this was any substitute for musicality. The talent on stage was inspiring, each switching seamlessly between instruments, if not skipping the switch and just playing multiple simultaneously. It was also refreshing to see the tuning banter and song change chatter shared between the three; the harmonious cohesion they achieve between voices and instruments extending into a whole and rounded stage presence.

The rest of ‘Dark Eyes’ was played out with the same, unfaltering emotion and skill. ‘She Wants to Know’ was a solid highlight. The lonely backbeat on single key ringing through a dramatic build to one of the heavier, darker choruses of the album.

Devon Portielje’s voice has a subtle rough edge that oozes feeling and colours the occasional sadness of selected songs.

In the warm synth-pop of ‘Drug You’ he levitates in a Jónsi style falsetto. In ‘Give Up’, the influence of Radiohead to the band’s composition come to the foreground, with similarities between Portielje’s intoxicating voice and Yorke’s also strikingly apparent. Being a Radiohead fan, I’m not complaining.

Pinning a genre to Half Moon Run is futile and I think a little bit silly. What’s the point? They’re doing something right. Clambering back onto the stage for a roaring encore with a disarming confession of ‘we’re kind of a new band…we don’t actually have that much material’, their renditions of ‘Creatures of the Night’ and a very country, ‘Dance Hall Girls’ offered a revealing insight into their diverse influences. The Standard hosted the final show of a month long cherry popping tour of Australia and a debut album. Living up to NME’s recent praise, they are indeed the Buzz Kings, music lovers of the world watching on as their fresh, doting subjects. If indeed as promised, they are back next year, I will be lulling with the crowd at their melodic mercy once more. Until then, I look forward to seeing what follows ‘Dark Eyes’ as the newcomers settle into their own sound.


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