Review and Photography by John Bentley

This is only my second visit to Hebden Bridge’s legendary and characterful Trades Club and already it is one of my all-time favourite live music venues. Tonight the club hosts a psychedelic extravaganza, headed-up by Moon Duo, with this being the last date of the American band’s UK tour.

Moon Duo - Ripley Johnson

It’s always a bonus to have the right atmosphere created before the bands even take the stage. And so it is tonight, with eclectic music being played over the PA and the dimly-lit hall bathed in swirling psychedelic lights. With a bit of imagination (and a pint or two of the venue’s best house ale) you could imagine you were back at the UFO club in 1967 with Syd Barrett’s Pink Floyd about to take the stage. Often the headlining band save the decent stage lighting for themselves, but tonight both support bands fortunately also benefit from the spectacular light show.

Moon Duo - Ripley Johnson and Sanae Yamada

Taking to the stage first is a bunch of young lads from Burnley called The Goa Express. Starting off with a laid-back Brianjonestown Massacre (BJM) cover, the band draw their inspiration from current bands like the BJM and 1960s garage psych. They should also get a prize for the best-titled song of the evening – ‘The Reincarnation of the Lizard Queen’. These guys really deliver a crackingly good set and receive a rousing reception from the audience. Brilliant stuff and a band I would definitely go and see again.

The Goa Express

Also impressive are Hey Bulldog a three-piece heavy psych-blues outfit from Manchester. They deliver a fast, driving set, with guitarist Rob Manton really bending those strings and hitting the effects pedals, as on the live version of their single ‘Under My Spell’.

Hey Bulldog

Formed in San Francisco in 2009, Moon Duo are guitarist Ripley Johnson and keyboard player Sanae Yamada. Johnson is also guitarist and songwriter with Wooden Shjips. Moon Duo have developed aspects of the psychedelic space-rock of Wooden Shjips, making the extended drone-groove their speciality. As one reviewer neatly put it, “If Wooden Shjips are Hawkwind, then Moon Duo are a motorik Motorhead” (Velvet-Sheep.com). Since 2013 the Duo has become a trio, with the addition of drummer John Jeffrey. Early band recordings used a drum machine and Johnson has the difficult task of manually maintaining a constant beat over the band’s often lengthy tracks.

Moon Duo

Moon Duo appeared on Marc Riley’s Radio 6 programme the day prior to the Hebden Bridge gig and recorded session tracks for his show. In the interview the band revealed a real affection for Hebden Bridge, where it turns out they have been staying. Asked about what music genre they fitted in to, they were clearly reluctant to be pigeon-holed. They suggested they were basically rock ‘n’ roll, but conceded they could fit-in under the ‘psychedelic’ heading and acknowledged Suicide as a band with an influence on their music. Meanwhile their Facebook entry describes the genre as ‘repeat-o rock’, referencing the repetitive riffscape of their music.

Moon Duo - Ripley Johnson

On the current tour Moon Duo have largely focussed on their two most recent albums, featuring large chunks of 2015’s ‘Shadow of the Sun’ and a selection of favourites, like ‘Free Action’, from 2012’s ‘Circles’.

Moon Duo - Ripley Johnson

Moon Duo - Ripley Johnson

Moon Duo

Moon Duo - Sanae Yamada

Live they really seem to make sense and immerse the audience in a total audio-visual experience, with the pounding groove of the music augmented by a superb enveloping and disorientating light show. Drummer Johnson maintains a hypnotic beat, while Yamada plays organ / synth parts with one hand and keyboard bass parts with the other. As the audience sways, Johnson’s guitar soars off in all directions. The music is certainly cosmic and trancey, but it also has darkness and grit. Moon Duo really seem to be on form tonight, perhaps inspired by their declared love of Hebden Bridge as well as reaching the finale of their UK tour.

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