In the wake of their performance on Conan last week, hot up-and-comers Moon Taxi played to a packed house at the Troubadour Thursday night. I’d heard good things about the Memphis five-piece, and so I donned my favorite West Hollywood get-up (fishnet halter top, fur miniskirt, bondage tights, pacifier — pretty standard, really) and headed down to Santa Monica Boulevard to check them out.
I’d never been to the Troubadour, and I was thrilled just to be there. My inner hick never gets tired of treading the same ground as the legends. Here was the front bar where Don Henley and Glenn Frey first met! Here was the stage where Elton John made his US debut and Billy Joel played in LA for the first time! Could I have been standing in the spot where Carly Simon and James Taylor first made each other’s acquaintance, or maybe lounging against the back bar where the guy who decided to sign Guns ‘n Roses had been standing? Maybe someone famous had puked or gotten felt up while standing in the very spot where I sipped my rum and Coke. Isn’t LA glamorous?
Being whipped into a nostalgic frenzy, then, was understandable, especially after the Black Crowes-y rockabilly stylings of LA’s own Fortress Social Club. The band’s straight-from-the-70s attire and lead singer Shawn Harris’s Joe Walsh-style energy only worsened my starstruck nostalgia. Leave it to Hollywood to make you wistful for a time you never knew.
By the time Moon Taxi hit the stage, I thought I was over my sentimental streak for the evening, but I was wrong. Between the throwback swag of fair-haired, angelic, dreamy-ass lead singer Trevor Terndrup and the masterfully melodic work of guitarist Spencer Thomson, I was ripped from my Formica-orange ’70s fantasies and tossed straight into a much less expected set of rosy musical memories: the ’90s.
No, not the delightfully tacky Color Me Badd ’90s that I’m so fond of, but the ’90s that brought us Weezer and Sublime and Incubus and Jane’s Addiction and Rage Against The Machine and were themselves affectionately inclined toward the ’70s. You know, the ’90s that rocked. Don’t take that to mean that Moon Taxi sounds dated. It’s more like they cherry-picked the best elements of ’90s rock and synthesized them into a modern sound that can alternately remind you of a fresh version of any of the aforementioned bands.
If you know me, then you know I’m a sucker for a cute frontman, especially one who’s reminiscent of a pretty, blond Billy Squier with the pipes to match. Indeed, the only thing that can reliably distract me from a hot guy singing well in tight pants is the quiet guy next to him who’s absolutely shredding his instrument. Spencer Thomson couldn’t look more unassuming, but his guitar work is like Rage’s Tom Morello meets Dire Straits’ Mark Knopfler meets Queen’s Brian May; in other words, he’s captivating. He also produced the band’s most recent album, Mountains Beaches Cities, which doesn’t surprise me. He plays guitar like a man who has an eye for detail and a drive for perfection.
Two equally impressive things struck me about Moon Taxi: the seamless incorporation of a variety of influences into their sound — from Long Beach to prog rock to grittiness bordering on old-fashioned country — and the readily apparent musicianship of each member of the band. The round of solos that went down near the end of their set provided more than enough evidence of their chops; none of these guys is sliding by on their looks.
Moon Taxi continues on their North American tour through June, and their new live EP, Acoustic on West 56th, is available on iTunes. Who couldn’t use five more talented guys in their life?