Review Joseph Leroux Photos Lindsey Blane
Half Moon Run provided a dynamic live offering last Saturday night at their sold-out end-of-tour show at The Royal McPherson Playhouse. Live, the harmonies and practiced musicianship of frontmen Devon Portielje and Conner Molander, highlight the group’s fixation on classic folk and country elements that underlies their modern indie arrangements and dramatic live execution.
Onstage, Portielje was affected from first note; his leering posture and agonized face seemed cultivated to imply injury and danger. Contrasting that, surfer-haired, boyish Molander played back up duty most of the time, but was not shy in taking center stage--figuratively and sometimes literally--for guitar solos, dance moves, and tender moments with his harmonica.
Behind them, multi instrumentalists Dylan Phillips and Isaac Symonds occupied dual drum sets, while also triggering samples, playing keys, and bass and guitar. A chemistry of professionalism existed between the four of them. These boys knew how to play their songs, adept at supporting each other onstage. Briefly, Phillips even came downstage and sat at a Rhodes, and played the short interlude “Throes”, off of their 2015 release, Sun Leads Me On while the rest of the group disappeared.
I mention so much about these boys’ personalities alongside their music only because the impression I got both from the crowd and from them, was that I was watching rockstars.
When Molander stepped on stage, a woman behind me asked “who is that?” Her neighbour gleefully replied, “That’s Connor! Go Comox!” It’s true that some of the members of the band are from BC. Molander later said, as a sort of indirect reply to the enthusiasm going on behind me, and indeed everywhere else “We consider this a homecoming show, and it feels good.”
Need I say the set was well received? Security cleared out dancers from the theatre aisles several times, (“Fire code.” They said). You could dance in front of your seat, though, and so everyone did.
My excitement was tempered with a dubious skepticality. Having listened to both their records, I had never shaken the feeling that Half Moon Run’s arrangements were noticeably derivative of their influences--big influences. This isn’t inherently bad, but I wondered if live the acoustic guitar work in “It Works Itself Out” would feel fresh, and sound to me less like a Johnny Greenwood warm-up exercise, which was my (admittedly pretentious) first impression. And what about a track like “Consider Yourself”, which owes as much to The Eagles as it does the current infatuation with 80’s synth textures? Do the bathed-in-reverb harmonies of “Everybody Wants” remind you of a recently resurrected Seattle group?
Thankfully, Half Moon Run is a band practiced enough to incorporate these already famous elements and pull it off in an honest and, as I experienced that evening at McPherson, a necessary-feeling way. The entire room was floored by their performance and star boy attitude, which for the most part avoided striding into arrogant territory. It’s clear that this quartet has potential and a keen ear, listening not only for what they can graft onto their own sound, but what they can absorb, exemplify and become.