By Sean Philip Cotter
Electronic jam band Lotus and its opener Moon Hooch each had their own take on how to rule as an instrumental band.
Check out our photo gallery from the show.
On an unseasonably warm Wednesday night, Jan. 30, the Westcott Theater was the place to be, if you aren’t into vocals.
Here’s the thing: tons of musical acts do just fine without vocals; it isn’t weird to have instrumental bands do well at the Westcott. But there’s no question a charismatic frontman is the most common asset bands use to keep the crowd rapt. Without one, an act has to find a different way to reel people in. A different hook. The two bands at the Westcott that night, the genre-bending Moon Hooch, and then the better-known electronic jam band Lotus, had two very different — but similarly successful — approaches.
Much of the capacity crowd had already shuffled in when the opening act got into the swing of things. Moon Hooch’s hook was the band’s surprising contrast between instrumentation and genre. When you see one guy on drums and two on saxes and other woodwinds, it’d usually be a safe bet to to have your money on the fact you’re going to hear jazz, probably improvisational.
But that bet would lose you money when Moon Hooch is in town. First off, it isn’t a jam band. Each song was clearly well-rehearsed the way it was played at the show. That’s probably because the band’s style of music didn’t lend itself to jamming — the trio summoned from its classic instrumental combination a mix of rock and dance beats. Sometimes a four-on-the-floor style that wouldn’t feel out of place in a dance club, other times a stomp-stomp-clap beat straight from a 70s arena rock anthem. The crowd really began to pay attention when one of the woodwindists busted out a contrabass clarinet and started pumping out a remarkably good imitation of a wobbly dubstep bass, complete with triplets and a build-and-drop song structure. The crowd reacted well to these hooks, and for good reason. You couldn’t help but at least sway to the beat or bob your head.
When the band finally left the stage to cheers and shouts for more, the sold-out show had completely filled up, and the audience began to get pumped up for the main act. If it weren’t evident enough a band can get the crowd going without having a charismatic frontman belting it out, one fan of the Indiana-based main act knows Lotus has what it takes to put on a great show.
“It’s the intensity of the music,” says Darrell Weston, a local Lotus fan, seeing the band for the first time. “The combination of the organic instruments and the electronic stuff — it’s really a great combination.”
And the band proved him right. After a little while, at least. It took a couple songs for the band to have the crowd fully involved. Song selection played a part — Lotus’ first few songs were of the time-honored airy stoner-jam school of music. Though the audience nodded along pleasantly, there was no way for them to get too pumped up by it. Probably not helping this was the fact that the spiraling light patterns on the ceiling might have been distracting this type of music’s target fan base, as the skunky scent of more than one joint tinged the air.
As the night wore on, though, the energy picked up. The band played almost as fast and loose with genres as their opener had, changing it up at times to classic EDM. Some happy, upbeat electronic music whipped the crowd up pretty quickly. A guitar throwing in some licks and longer solos provided an extra quirk, differentiating the band from similar acts.
Lotus had a completely different strategy for keeping the audience involved than Moon Hooch did. The opener’s act was pretty sparse — the three guys got up there and rocked out without much to-do. In contrast, Lotus’ act was a production. Lights, sound effects, extended jams showing off each member’s chops — the band pulled out all the stops. The light work in particular was quite sharp and effective. Sometimes the band played silhouetted against a solid purple background. Other times it employed the use of strobes. Occasionally an almost horrifically bright red light would blast the crowd, seeming to ratchet up the heat in the already steamy room. Each one brought a noisy reaction from the crowd.
When the act was done, after midnight, the crowd went home happy. Maybe in a way that was hard to put into words. But the two bands would probably like that.