Rose Windows, The Moondoggies
Local 506, Chapel Hill
Sunday, Oct. 20, 2013
Some 20 years ago, Seattle indie label Sub Pop
became virtually synonymous with a certain style of noisy, no-frills guitar rock that eventually spawned the umbrella term grunge. These days its roster is far more varied. Two of Sub Pop’s leading lights performed at Local 506 on Sunday night, offering two distinct approaches, each with its own allure.
springs from songwriter Chris Cheveyo’s desire to build on the traditional framework of rock with songs that move deftly from hymnlike harmonies to blues vamps to Middle Eastern modalities. Built around the force-of-nature voice of Rabia Shaheen Qazi, Rose Windows swirls these elements in ways that bring to mind the violet-tinged psychedelia of Mazzy Star, minus the purr and fronted by a siren instead.
Whether in suite-like compositions dotted with flute passages and puffs of Fender Rhodes, or extended psych jams that approach Black Sabbath territory, these are true ensemble pieces, with musical wanderlust proudly showing. One minute, Rose Windows evoked David LaFlamme’s languid ’60s gem “White Bird”; the next, Qazi's wail was filling my mind with comparisons—all of them good (Siouxsie Sioux? Johnette Napolitano? Grace Slick?). While she commanded the stage more and more as the set went on, Cheveyo hung toward the back of stage left, playing a black Gibson SG (fitting for a Sabbath fan).
Rose Windows provided clear evidence of both the up and down sides of being an eight-piece band. On the one hand, you can make a truly gorgeous, richly textured noise. The downside is that it takes a long time to tune up, and on a modest-sized stage, you have to be very strategic about where everyone stands. Abetted by a great live sound at 506, the set showed off the many colors of a band that’s equally at home with nuance as it is with bombast.
Where Rose Windows has something of the feel of a collective, The Moondoggies
—who record for the Sub Pop imprint Hardly Art Records— are a band pure and simple, and their songs deliver the solid joys of the American rock vernacular in its most essential components. Lead singer and founder Kevin Murphy and keyboard player Caleb Quick lock in on burnished vocal harmonies, and the band is versed in finding the possibilities inherent within a burly two-chord groove knocked out on a Fender Telecaster. They’ve been lumped in with bands such as Fleet Foxes, and the comparison is fair insofar as it applies to some songs. But these guys are not just about smooth country-folk ambles through the snow.
That said, they do not exactly upset the apple cart. In mining a musical style based on old traditions, the Moondoggies make music that brings to mind the likes of Gram Parsons and Neil Young. More than anything, they recall the Band—the godfathers of the Americana genre—in their stately tempos, in the supple bass playing of Robert Terreberry, certainly in their beards. And the dusky vibe of the music is tempered by the kind of hard truths found in old songs. The subjects are scrutable and often plaintive: “Don’t expect to understand what’s inside a man” and “Don’t make it right—make it easy.”
And yet, by the end of the set, the casual country cadences picked up, the momentum and volume built, and the band proved more than capable of delivering stinging hard rock—the kind that recalls Seattle during Sub Pop’s flannel-shirted heyday.