The reaction is instantaneous. It doesn't even matter when they're the opening act no one in the room has heard before -- as soon as Moon Hooch starts playing, it's as if the room becomes a living, surging, pulsing thing. They call it "cave music": like house music, but more primitive and jagged and raw. But there are no DJs or manufactured beats here -- just one drum kit and two saxophones.
Moon Hooch -- saxophonists Mike Wilbur and Wenzl McGowen, and drummer James Muschler -- met while all three were students at The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music in New York City. They found in each other a similar drive to work hard, practice, and create new, unusual sounds with their instruments. They first played in the summer of 2010, busking in front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Later that summer, the band set up to play on the L train subway platform at Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn. Above ground and a few blocks way, Modest Mouse was playing a concert at the Williamsburg Waterfront, which was rained out just a few songs in; hundreds of hungry music fans flooded the subway and stumbled upon Moon Hooch -- initiating an impromptu underground rave, along with a habit of having their platform parties shut down by the police. (They've since been banned from playing in the Bedford station by a weary NYPD. Fortunately, there are plenty of other, friendlier stations... for now.)
The "cave music" sound developed around an organic approach to playing electronic dance music. The looping, frenetic sax melodies and James's furious drumming are fierce and trance-like, as Mike and Wenzl rock back and forth, pushing and pulling each other from across the stage. Sometimes Wenzl switches over to a contrabass clarinet, or inserts a long cardboard tube into the bell of his sax to create the deep, throbbing womp of a dubstep bassline. It's manic, and thrilling, and perhaps a little bit evil.
One time, someone hollered at them between songs, "What are you called?" The trio didn't have a name yet, but Mike blurted out "MOON JUICE!" It seemed like a good fit, until they Googled the name and found a number of other bands were already using it, so a few minutes of thesaurus-diving yielded a suitable synonym for "juice," and Moon Hooch was born.
They recorded their self-titled debut album at The Bunker Studio in Brooklyn in the space of one 24-hour period. Their fanatical rehearsal regimen and hours-long busking sessions had prepared them well; most of the 13 songs were recorded in a single take.
After several months of busking on New York City subway platforms, Moon Hooch was spotted by former Soul Coughing frontman Mike Doughty, who was so taken with them that he invited them to open his national tour. That immediacy that served them so well in the underground translated nicely to rock club stages, as Moon Hooch began building a fan base across the country. Early in the tour, the band asked an audience in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, if anyone had a floor they could crash on; the couple who offered their house joked that the band's music would make a great alarm clock. Well, the Hooch abides: at 9 AM the next morning, Moon Hooch was set up in their living room, and brought them dancing down the stairs to greet the day. (Lest you think this apocryphal, the whole thing's on YouTube.)
The band continued to play shows above ground, including gigs supporting Galactic and a CMJ showcase with the Soul Rebels and Maceo Parker, and U.S. tours supporting Lotus and They Might Be Giants. In the summer of 2013, Moon Hooch will graduate from busking at the ferry dock during New York's Governor's Ball Music Festival to playing the festival itself. And their album, heretofore only available from the hand of a band member at gig, will finally get wider distribution when it's re-released by Hornblow/Palmetto Records in June, with a new song added for good measure.
By organifying electronic music, by producing synthetic sounds with acoustic musical machines, Moon Hooch creates hope that anything synthetic can be replaced with something organic.
When it comes to the music of Cabinet, the essential bywords are soul, simplicity, and serious musicianship. In concert, the combination of these qualities invariably yields an experience that is so celebratory and moving that the very word Cabinet takes on a new, vivid meaning for anyone in the audience. An inclusive and engaging energy is the uniting through-line as Cabinet weaves bluegrass, country and folk influences to powerful effect. Tight dynamics punctuate gorgeous, soaring harmonies as down-to-earth rhythm and lyrics give way to dreamy jams that are the musical equivalent of the back road scenic route. But this impressive result is no accident. Pappy Biondo [banjo, vocals], J.P. Biondo [mandolin, vocals], Mickey Coviello [acoustic guitar, vocals], Dylan Skursky [electric bass, double bass], Todd Kopec [fiddle, vocals], and Jami Novak [drums, percussion], all love and live music. They each have a nuanced approach and posses broad talents in their own rights. But the passionate, affirming, and joyous musical world that they create together is Cabinet.
Listeners that haven't yet experienced Cabinet in person will no longer be left out, thanks to a trio of live releases. THIS IS CABINET - SET I (released Dec. 2010 on Ropeadope Records) showcases the band's arrangement of traditional country and bluegrass songs as well as extended versions of tracks from their Self-Titled debut. THIS IS CABINET - COVERS (a free album given to fans for the 2011 holiday season), again showcases arrangements of traditional and standard bluegrass and folk numbers plus a couple Paul Simon tracks thrown in for good measure. The most recent effort, ELEVEN (out now on Ropeadope Records), is the band's most ambitious release to date. A live DVD / CD recorded November 11, 2011 at Abbey Bar, a former WWII aircraft parts factory turned brewery, in Harrisburg, PA, ELEVEN captures Cabinet in the heart of their element. Performed in front of a rambunctious sold out crowd this 11 song set features fan favorites "Tower", "Elizabeth", "Old Farmers Mill" and "Coalminers" as well as previously unreleased material. ELEVEN surely lives up to the band's ever growing live show reputation.
Cabinet is a band that has outgrown any "regional favorite" tag and has progressed to a broader fanbase, all while retaining their signature sound. The band has played many great venues and festivals (CMJ 11, SXSW 11 & 12, musikfest 10 & 11, to name a few) across the land and has shared the stage with Infamous String Dusters, Railroad Earth, Rusted Root, Hoots & Hellmouth, Hot Buttered Rum, Cornmeal, Dark Star Orchestra, Keller Williams, Hackensaw Boys, 7 Walkers, New Riders of the Purple Sage and many more.
Cabinet formed in 2006, bringing together players from various musical and personal backgrounds. Some of the members are barely old enough to drink legally, but their thirst for older music is unquenchable. Whether its rustic "American Beauty"-era Grateful Dead or old-timey bluegrass, Cabinet has digested it all. But that is not to say that Cabinet recreates older styles. No, this is music that might have its roots in the past, but it is current and vibrant, with a sense of celebrating the now. The band self-released a debut album, "Cabinet," before signing with Ropeadope, which took notice and re-released that album digitally.