Part of the joy of big showcases and festivals is finding a band that's new and fresh, one that makes you step outside of your normal listen patterns and leaves you glad that you did. After emerging from DFest, I had found a least a couple of those bands, but one in particular stood out, a group of local guys known as Moai Broadcast.
Those who are regulars at Soundpony, White Owl or The Colony have likely come across this group at least once over the past eight months, but those are the fortunate few. After a solid set at McNellie's during DFest, however, the buzz on Moai is bound to spread.
My compatriot, Josh Kline, actually listed the band's DFest slot in his recommendations for the weekend, and with good cause: initially listed as Trip-Hop, the band ultimately defies categories with a genre twisting approach to electronic and dance music. To my ear, the group approaches a sound more akin to Sound Tribe Sector 9's dance-beat heavy sonic explorations. Throw in a little psychedelic jam and free-style electronica and you might understand why the band's sound is so hard to define.
In truth, that's because this is a band that's still evolving. I had the good fortune of meeting sax player Josh Coffman during a DFest after party and was able to catch up with him again last week to discuss what will surely become one of Tulsa's more popular experimental dance rock bands.
Moai (pronounced "Mo-eye", after the giant head statues found on Easter Island) Broadcast is essentially an offshoot of Tech Tonic, as keyboardist Jordan Holt spawned this new project with friend and drummer/producer Nick Bernson last winter. According to the band's bio, the two paired up with "the idea of achieving the highest level of expression through its most simplistic forms." When translated to layman's terms, I believe what they really mean is "convey our experiences through some badass grooves that will make you shake your ass."
Once augmented with guitarist Cody Brewer and bassist Nick Abbott, the group emerged from rehearsals in January with just a few gigs to fine-tune their act before playing the Waka-Winter Classic at the Cain's Ballroom in February. That gig formed a springboard for the band to quickly expand its reach to Fayetteville and Norman before landing at Wakarusa in June. Along the way, Coffman (who was also a member of Tech Tonic as well as having played previously with Steve Lidell and King James Version "back in the day") started jamming with the band and officially joined the band's lineup over the summer.
The addition of Coffman expands on the Moai Broadcast's greatest strength: although the group is firmly entrenched in electronic rhythms and sampling, its sound is balanced by a natural and organic approach to the music. Brewer's fluid guitar lines and Abbott's bass work bring a distinct warmth to the music without overshadowing the synth and dance beats. The addition of Coffman on sax allows the group to experiment further, yet keep an interactive, human feel to the music. The band somehow skirts the edges of jam and electronica without being absorbed by either genre, creating its own unique niche.
When I discussed the band's approach to songwriting and performance, I couldn't help but ask how much is pre-structured and how much is improvisational. Although an easy reference point for comparing the band is EOTO, the fully improvisational project of former String Cheese Incident members Michael Travis and Jason Hann, Maio Broadcast doesn't cast so broad a net, instead keeping things more focused and direct. While Coffman did recognize EOTO as an influence, he also shared that the band prefers to keep its material structured, with each song worked out and written in movements, while leaving room to explore the grooves and improvise as the live experience dictates.
"Some of the songs are more set, while some of the stuff is more electronic driven, so we can groove on it for a while and see where it goes," Coffman shared. "It really comes from the makeup of the band: we've got some really good songwriters, but it also depends on what the song calls for. All of them are actual songs that have been thought out, but at the same time, music is supposed to be a free flowing thing, so we try and leave room for that."
Although the majority of the band's work to date has been more ambient and psychedelic, Moai is only beginning to tap its creative resources. Just recently, the group started experimenting with more upbeat, bass and drum driven house grooves with Holt and Bernson working on laptops, creating and mixing on the fly.
Right now, the laptops are just being introduced, with the band searching for a balance between its innate structure and free-form grooves. As the group explores the possibilities, however, it is allowing itself to play some wildly different sets, experimenting with both vibes.
"Really, our identity lies somewhere in between," Coffman explained. "We like to create music people can dance to, plus have a few think pieces with a low-key, chill groove."
To music fans, that's precisely what's so exciting about this band: its work is incredibly engaging, creating a palpable energy which hasn't been previously captured nearly so well in our local clubs. Even within that niche, however, the group continues to expand its sound and scope and is allowing its audience to be a part of the evolution. When augmented by a full-on light show directed by Mike Miller, it's an experience no other band in Tulsa is providing.
Moai Broadcast will be performing twice this week with two distinctly different shows. A Thursday night (August 6) appearance at The White Owl on Cherry Street provides the band a forum for exploration with a set that will be almost exclusively comprised of the group's more upbeat House and drum/bass improvisations.
Two nights later, on August 8, the group headlines a gig with The Floozies at Soundpony which will highlight its more structured compositions and the relaxed grooves upon which it has thus far built its reputation.
The smart bet will be to stop in and witness both shows to get a broader picture of what this group is capable of as it continues to evolve and find its true identity. Caught somewhere between jam-rock, Trip-Hop and electronica, Moai Broadcast is forming its own niche and creating some of the most original and entrancing dance vibes I've experience in Tulsa to date.
It's another quiet weekend in T-Town as we continue to recover from the after-effects of DFest. Fortunately, we've got the ABoT Music Awards on Saturday night to give us a shot in the arm and a reason to continue celebrating our local music scene. While your true best bets may be to stop in at some of our local haunts like The Colony, who host live music on a nightly basis without posting a schedule, we've still got a few highlights to help get you pointed out the door.
It's the first Thursday night of the month, and you know what that means, right? If you aren't getting your dance groove on with the aforementioned Moai Broadcast gig at White Owl, you can revisit your inner Irishman and raise a pint with Cairde na Gael at Arnie's.
Friday night, August 7, has a couple great shows to choose from. Even if you're not a commercial country fan, it's hard to deny Keith Urban is a class-A guitar slinger. He'll be playing to a packed house at the BOK Center with Sugarland on Friday and adding to the new arena's massive ticket sales in 2009. If you're looking for real blood, sweat and tears rock and roll, however, you need to get over to Mercury Lounge for Josh Davis Band. Expect him to start tearing things up at 10pm.
Saturday, August 8, has been marked in our calendar for weeks. Of course, the big gig for the city's music scene is Urban Tulsa Weekly's ABoT Music Awards at Cain's Ballroom with performances by each of our Band of the Year nominees: Callupsie, Dead Sea Choir, My Solstice, Vandevander and Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey. Add in a little schmoozing and it should be a great party.
Afterwards, it's just a question of what kind of after party you're looking for: A wise bet will be the short trip down the sidewalk to Soundpony for The Floozies and Moai Broadcast, but a few of you will certainly be looking for a more rowdy outlet. If you're in that crowd, you'll want to cross the tracks and join Larkin at Arnie's to celebrate front man Chad Malone's birthday. Meanwhile, straight up country fans should head to 18th and Boston to catch Jeremy Johnson and the Lonesome Few at Mercury Lounge.
Finally, the week wraps up with a couple of high profile gigs for those with some extra expendable income. Classic rock and blues fans will want to venture south to the Spirit Bank events center for Steve Miller Band on Sunday evening, August 9 to bring your weekend to a close. The week's real endcap, however, is Chris Isaak at the Brady Theater on Wednesday evening, August 12.
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