[EVENT RECAP] Moon Block Party
If you were to ask average music festival fans whether or not they were attending Moon Block Party, most would respond by saying “What’s Moon Block Party?” This is not an unfair assessment as the third Moon Block Party, which took place at the Pomona Fairplex this past Saturday, was the first one that garnered enough well-known artists to be considered a festival as opposed to an outdoor show. Groups such as Spoon, the Black Lips, and Unknown Mortal Orchestra, as well as many more, were present at the rock heavy occasion this year. The day didn't get off to a great start, as I watched unenthusiastic bands play to a barely-existent audience. But as the sun went down the festival redeemed itself.
The singer of the first group I watched, Death Hymn Number 9, would say things like “We got three more shitty songs for you,” without any sense of lightness in his voice. It was like he actually believed songs he helped compose were garbage. Three out of five members of Dahga Bloom remained seated throughout the entire performance while the other two dawdled around making more noise than music. Lorelle Meets The Obsolete may have been going for a slower and fuzzier interpretation of indie-rock, but the already quiet band was plagued with technical issues and an unresponsive crew.
A rough start for sure, but there was much more music to come. For a festival that cost under $60 to have such a well known lineup is truly rare. In an interview with dailybulletin.com, Phil Pirrone, founder of Moon Block Party, said he wanted the lineup to “flow and make sense.” Here’s the thing though, after Black Rebel Motorcycle Club cancelled their performance due to health issues of their drummer, Leah Shapiro, Moon Block Party did not release an updated schedule on their website, nor was there an information booth inside the festival with up-to-date times. So essentially, festival goers had to hope for the best when it came to seeing who they wanted. What I didn’t expect was for this sense of uncertainty to create an exquisite festival experience that flowed just as well as Pirrone had hoped.
Of the three stages at Moon Block Party, the two worth paying attention to were the Moon Stage (Main Stage) and the Block Stage. These stages were placed on opposite sides of the venue and thus when you were standing at one, you couldn’t hear the other at all despite the relatively small size of the venue. Before the sun would set, each of these stages would establish its own sound, style, and crowd. The Moon Stage is where you go to rock. The Block Stage is where you go to roll. This realization began with Christian Bland and the Revelators playing the Moon Stage when Band of Skulls were scheduled. Their mix of alternative and southern rock got the crowd moving. The western twang of the guitar and organ provided a vintage vibe, while the crunching distortion kept the die hard rockers satisfied.
Tinariwen came next, and thoroughly established the Block stage as a mellow throwback to the sixties. Their mix of authentic African folk music and psych-rock jams swirled around while everyone including the security swayed naturally to the rhythms. After twenty minutes of alternative tribal beats, I saw fellow photographers check their phones and take off toward the Moon Stage at the same time I heard a faint howl in that direction. If there’s one band on the lineup that could push their sound to every corner of the venue, it’s Band of Skulls. Every song they played rang out to fullest. Drums crashing, powerful bass, and screaming guitar solos defined their performance. Songs like “Sweet Sour,” and “Death by Diamonds and Pearls,” were just as tight as the recordings, with an expressive feel that can only be heard live.
I left to catch the last few minutes of Tinariwen, needing one last dose of mellow before I went back to the Moon Stage, hoping that Black Lips would be on next. They were. Their ode to authentic American music was a pure party. They cycled through punk rock, garage, blues, rock and roll, and even a little bit of doo-wop all with their own brand of nonstop raw energy.
Soon after the Black Lips closed, it was time for me to return to the flowerbed that was the Block Stage for Unknown Mortal Orchestra, who put on a show Jerry Garcia would be proud of. Having members hailing from both Auckland and Portland, UMO is born of cities that have been known to be immune to the influence of the mainstream. Their sound is jubilant mix of Abbey Road era Beatles and modern psychedelic music. This is a band that clearly has fun when they’re on stage. Songs like “How Can You Luv Me,” and “From the Sun” which are both under five minutes on the record stretch into epic jams that feature all three members separately. At one point, guitarist Ruban Nielson was literally on his hands and knees, turning a guitar solo into something completely different with his pedal board. A truly talented trio.
At that point in the night, Spoon was like post 2 a.m. drinks: always welcome but not necessary. Much of the crowd at UMO ran to Spoon to hear such classics as “The Underdog,” and “Don’t Make Me a Target,” but some simply laid on the grass, and some left. Not because they were dissatisfied with the festival, Moon Block Party accomplished something all festivals strive to do: they appealed to different types of fans. The crowd at the Moon Stage and the Block Stage were completely different. One was a group of people who came to party, another was a flock of folks who wanted to lie back and enjoy the moment. Either way, everyone left Moon Block Party with a smile on their face, and all of them will be telling their friends to go next year.
All words and photos by Harry Levin. Click on the thumbnails below to view photos.