Half Moon Run @ Koko
Montréal-based indie rock four-piece Half Moon Run brought their newly expanded set to Camden as they headlined Koko in support of sophomore studio album Sun Leans Me On, which was released just last Friday. For a band that came together via a Craigslist ad to make music together, everything about their rise to success could have seen them fold at any stage. From a tempting record deal with Indica, which they took against advice, Conner Molander almost leaving the band in pursuit of a firefighting career in British Columbia to being a band with only music in common being sent out on the road to tour what became a critically and commercially successful debut album, Dark Eyes.
But they held together and came out of the process as a cohesive unit and, if anything, stronger for it. But instead of taking time out to process what had just happened over the previous few years, the quartet threw themselves directly into producing Sun Leads Me On, the second record pressure nowhere to be seen in the resultant release. The group’s famous three-part harmonies thankfully feature in the new material which seems, if anything, even more well-crafted than Dark Eyes.
For a band that all sing and all play numerous instruments it’s an interesting proposition to see the stage dynamic, but Half Moon Run make the most of their assets by skipping the centre-stage lead mic and instead having true frontman Devon Portielje and vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Conner Molander sharing the stage, each behind a keyboard stack, guitar and microphone, leading to an increased sense of energy.
Opening with new album tracks Turn Your Love and I Can’t Figure Out What’s Going On, the mood was set with energetic riffs filling the small London theatre as Molander threw his long mop about between contributing vocal harmonies.
Dark Eyes tracks Nerve and Unofferable took the audience back to familiar material for the first time, huge circular lights behind Portielje and Molander casting the duelling frontmen into the shadows.
For debut album track Call Me in the Afternoon , 28-year-old Portielje put down his guitar and contributed to the plethora of drumming activity on stage, multi-instrumentalists Dylan Phillips and Isaac Symonds already taking up sticks and extended percussion in addition to keyboards and guitars.
“We’ve got a special song that needs you guys to be quiet … at the right time” Portielje said, as stools and acoustic guitars were brought out to a low-seated microphone in the middle of the stage. “It’s called, Devil May Care”. As Dylan Phillips left the stage, the remaining band members broke into the new, lo-fi Country-tinged tune, 24-year-old Molander airing his harmonica and Isaac Symonds adding third vocal harmonies from the shadows, filling out the sound.
The band returned to their positions for Sun Leans Me On track Everybody Wants, starting out slow and quiet with Phillips’ metal brush drumming accompanying Portielje’s vocals. Molander came in next, adding vocal harmonies before all four members brought their voices and instruments to the song, the tempo being driven up as Phillips and Symonds’ dual-drumming setup stepped the track up a final notch, resulting in a gentle bop taking over the audience.
Sun Leads Me on tune Consider Yourself closed out the main set, the fast drumming intro allowing Portielje and Molander to thank the crowd for coming out to the show, the energy of the frontmen taking over, as they each bounded about the stage with Portielje getting to his knees to play a guitar solo with his teeth, in true clichéd rock and roll style.
New album track Trust opened the short encore, guitars firmly away for the synth-driven track and the night was eventually closed out with fan favourite single Full Circle, introduced by Portielje: “If you know it, please help sing along”, Molander’s classical guitar introduction garnering the biggest cheer of the night.
Here are a band of indie-rockers with driven, downbeat music overlaid with angst-laden lyrics that are delivered with a sheer energy that leaves their audience uplifted after a relentless assault from the stage, a recipe that’s not easy to get right but which works so well. If anything, Half Moon Run clearly demonstrate that any energy seemingly lost on record is made up for tenfold on stage.
Following a North American tour over the winter, Half Moon Run return to the UK and Ireland next March for a run of shows, closing with a headline date back in Camden, this time at the Roundhouse.
Photography & Review by Kalpesh Patel. Half Moon Run @ Koko on 26th October 2015.
Kalpesh has more music photography up on his Flickr stream here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/somethingforkate