The first thing you notice about Moon Taxi is how comfortable they are in their own skin. There’s no facade, no arrogance, just good ‘ole Southern hospitality. The second thing you notice is that these guys are having a helluva lot of fun.
Before I can say a word, I’m treated to a video of keyboardist Wes Bailey and his father raking their yard with a piece of plywood, or maybe plowing their yard with a piece of plywood. It’s a little unclear. “It’s a life-hack,” he informs me.
These guys have been making music for 10 years, in and out of green rooms around the country, and their enthusiasm hasn’t been dampened one bit by all of the miles. Listening to lead singer and guitarist Trevor Terndrup tell it, it’s not that hard. “It stays interesting every night because the crowds are unique and the songs are good. We keep things switched up pretty well too, as far as set-lists.”
Known for their live performances, Moon Taxi has also been widely praised for their studio work. The albums Cabaret and Mountains Beaches Cities were self-produced, but their most recent offering, Daybreaker, deviates from that pattern.
“We wanted to change the pace and open up our minds a little,” explains Spencer Thomson, guitarist and producer of the previous two records.
“We had done two records pretty much the same way. We really wanted to get the whole band recording thing going on. We were hoping to get more energy into the record, something we definitely feel we accomplished,” he says.
Before he can continue, Wes re-enters the room with a chair in his hand and begins to fiddle with the fan attached to the overhead light. With the chair rocking beneath him, and bandmates collectively holding their breath, he gets the light on and the fan off. He leaves, and Trevor promptly rises and turns the light off from the wall switch.
The humor isn’t lost on me, though the actions seem distinctly familial. While the group as consisted has been around for almost a decade, lead singer Terndrup and bassist Tommy Putnam have known and played with each other since getting a band together in high school.
“It was a three-piece and the drummer, Spencer, (no relation to Spencer Thomson) really only had about three beats he could play, so we were kind of limited in what we could do,” Trevor chuckles.
Still, it was that band, APEX, that first caught the ear of eventual drummer Tyler Ritter. He tells me that after all this time, “we still enjoy doing it every night. We are never bummed out about doing our job. We feed off each other. Trevor will jump up on the drum set and we just go.”
Six hours later, that’s exactly what I’m witnessing at The Orange Peel. Trevor is standing on the bass drum holding his guitar in the air. The nearly capacity crowd is going wild. The song is Year Zero. Everything is coming together. The faces of dancers all around tell the story. There’s a blonde woman in a black pillbox hat with a miles-wide smile. There’s the hipster guy with an ironic mustache, lips turned up even further than his whiskers. And there’s a lovely woman from Hilton Head with short, strawberry blonde hair, grinning in the back corner.
The music is fire and the lighting is superb. Having talked to the band earlier and knowing that they are playing a brand-new setlist, I can’t help but be a little blown away by the precision and intuitiveness of Matt Eldridge, their lighting tech.
They bring on the horns from the opening act, Elel, and descend into some straight up spaghetti, much to the enjoyment of the crowd. Bailey is absolutely going nuts on the keys. The groove is so nasty, so dirty, that I can still smell it as I write about the show the next morning.
The crowd moves as one. There’s no set break, no chance to gather oneself. The extended set is becoming the standard these days, but I do yearn for the days when you could get a smoke in without missing any music.
As the show winds down I find myself in the back, dancing with a strikingly beautiful couple from Toronto, Ontario. They made the trek all the way to Asheville to see this band and the looks on their faces tell me it was more than worth the trip. Moon Taxi descends into the opening notes of All Along the Watchtower and all three of us light up.
“This is happening right now,” Gary from Canada says. “This is really happening right now.”
One more song and the show is done. The crowd chants and stomps and The Boys return. Asheville is a city of love and peace, a city of unbridled joy and unhindered individualism. And on the day that Leonard Cohen died, Moon Taxi sang us Hallelujah. It was a fitting benediction, a lullaby sung with so much love and feeling that only the coldest of hearts listened with dry cheeks.
As I make the drive home, nearly an hour through the chilly night, my mind lingers over something Trevor said earlier. “At this point it is a brotherhood. It’s so much deeper than just working and playing music together. We love each other and want to protect each other and I think that is reflected in the songs.”
At the end of the night it wasn’t the explosive jams or the power guitar that made the act so special. What set Moon Taxi apart from every other band that I have seen to date was their approach. They didn’t come up to Asheville to play us their songs. Moon Taxi came to, for a few hours, invite us into their family. It was one hell of a ride.
By Caleb Calhoun
Caleb Calhoun studied writing at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and music at a plethora of clubs and bars across the southeast. He is the author and publisher of Rosman City Blues and currently resides outside of Asheville with his dog and best friend, Dr. Gonzo.
You can reach him at [email protected] and/or Facebook.com/GonzoNC.