Moon Duo, Baba Naga – Heaven, London (17th March 2017)

It’s St Patrick’s Day in the centre of London, so nightclub Heaven is keen to get the psychedelic rock out of the way and get ready to party. But relatively early stage times for Moon Duo and their support, Baba Naga, do little to dim their impact.

Baba Naga are three guys from Sheffield with a penchant for ’70s rock and psych. They are loud, really loud, and not afraid to pull guitar solos straight from the pre-punk decade — think Cream and Led Zeppelin, think whammy-bar vibrato. This is hard and dark music, silhouetted against bright white backlighting. The echoing vocals are less important than the singing guitar, which meshes with the heavy, heavy bass.

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Big bass plays a major part in establishing the sound of ‘DeificYen’, their recent single. As they warm to their task in a 35-minute, five-track set, Baba Naga accompany a Mughal guitar riff with monastic chanting. A restrained rock guitar solo explodes into hard riffing. Recent single ‘Plná Krvy’ can be heard on bandcamp, but the group need to be seen live for the full trip. Speeding up, they end with a track that has wah wah pedal, trippy effects galore, more ethereal chants from the bassist on vocals, a guitar solo that involves holding the axe perpendicular to the floor (like a mini-cello), and a load of feedback to end.

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After a quick turnaround, a huge circle of light switches on to silhouette Moon Duo as they run straight through the first three tunes from recent album ‘Occult Architecture Vol 1’ — a relentless ‘The Death Set’, insistent ‘Cold Fear’ and punchy ‘Creepin’’. Ripley Johnson guides the songs through deft key changes and caresses solos from his guitar, John Jeffrey drums like a machine and Sanae Yamada drives the novation analogue synth bass along unceasingly, also playing the rest of her keyboards and joining Johnson on vocals. 

Between tracks, murmuring taped background voices fill the gaps — silence is the enemy. A fourth track from the new album, ’White Rose’, marries boppy synth, dark hypnotic psych-rock and motorik drums, changing direction almost imperceptibly as the occasional crash of a cymbal or spacey guitar lick emerges from the wall of noise. The light circle behind the band paints psychedelic red and green mountains. 

Fat bass synth and whirring guitar introduce the first of four older tracks — ‘Free The Skull’, ‘I Been Gone’, ‘Free Action’ and ‘Thieves’ from ‘Shadow of the Sun’ and ‘Circles’. Yamada plays a keys solo like Booker T and the MGs, and Johnson creates great washes of guitar that crash over the crowd, while the great globe of light behind the band dazzles the punters. No one says a word until the sixth song of the night, a buzzing psych-out that the fans whoop, when Johnson has time for a quick “thankyou”. 

Jeffrey shows incredible stamina during the big-beat, fast percussion of ‘Free Action’ — both pedals going (one for the kick drum, the other for a high hat with bells), a non-stop shaker in one hand, while his other hand rattles a stick on the rim of the snare. The psychobilly groove infects the crowd who get moving as the droning, piercing guitar and big synth together with the light show behind the band create an immersive experience.  

Johnson’s care and deliberation is shown by the way he occasionally drops gently to his knees to fiddle with his array of guitar pedals, his spectacles and long, wispy white beard catching the light. A snappy ‘Thieves’ is whirling, grungy and whooshing as the bass synth repeats endlessly. It shows how moments of change amid intense cyclical repetition are one of Moon Duo’s most successful tropes. 

The trio return to the latest album for the final song of the main set, the speeding elastic rock of ‘Cult of Moloch’. The circle of light draws black and white images, adding red during psychedelic guitar solos and blue when the 3/4 drums syncopate. Guitars loop, vocals reprise the melody and the constant synth bass and drums keep the track moving like a train. 

After a quick pause, Moon Duo return for an encore and the circle of light behind them expands to fill the whole back wall as they play ‘Sevens’, the night’s taster from Vol 2 of ‘Occult Architecture’ — the Yang to Vol 1’s Yin. It’s more accessible than the dark material on Vol 1, a rock ’n’ roll beat that’s twisted until it’s tortured. They end with a birthday song for a friend; “This is a Stooges cover,” says Yamada as the dirty sound of ‘No Fun’ triggers a sudden upsurge in moshing. It’s a great way to end the set.

Photo Credit : Ian Bourne


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