SXSW Chronicles: Moon Hooch

Though I went as a music journalist, at the tender age of 19, I had no hope of entering most of the clubs of Austin, Texas, at South by Southwest. Acts I would not see over the course of the festival include: Paul Oakenfold, the Crystal Method, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Autre Ne Veut, Deadmau5, and (this one broke my heart) Snoop Lion.

But that’s alright. Instead, I saw these guys:

I’d been taking 30-second videos of street performers up to this point, but found myself rooted in place, unable to move save to capture the reactions of various dancers. I’m far from a skilled videographer, but I think the crowd’s joy comes through. Austin’s reputation as the Live Music Capital of the World aside, most of the buskers I saw were competent instrumentalists, but without much flair for showmanship or a catchy repertoire (though there were other notable exceptions). Who’d have thought two saxophones and a drummer were the magic recipe for success?

Once the band finished their set, I turned to leave. I dropped my pen, however (I’d been taking notes), and when I rose from picking it up, I saw that some new musicians had entered the scene.

I don’t know what those white tubes are called, but these guys were clearly veterans. (I saw them playing on the streets, often with other musicians, three of the next four nights.) You might not be able to tell from the video, but that drummer is grinning ear-to-ear behind his hair. How often does one get the chance to improvise a jam with two skilled strangers who play the same instruments as your friends, when your friends are both saxophonists? I wish my audio had been better: you could feel the brass in your bones if you stood close enough, and the rhythm was even catchier in person.

Once the jam ended, the young drummer stood to shake hands with the veterans, and his bandmates joined him. I stuck around to watch the conversation. Couldn’t make out what was being said, and eventually left. Then, heard a riff from behind me. The White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army”. It stopped. Then, another riff, this one perhaps even more familiar to my generation. I turned around and began recording.

Ladies and gentlemen, for your viewing pleasure, “Thrift Shop”, as covered by four saxophones and one drum set.

I approached the drummer after the set to thank him for what was, after all’s said and done, one of the five best concerts I saw in my time at one of the world’s largest music festivals. He told me that his name was James Muschler, and that the band’s name was Moon Hooch. They met at the New School, a college in Manhattan, where James picked up a BA in jazz performance before bandmates Mike Wilbur and “Wenzl” McGowen left school with him to play full-time (Mike and Wenzl also graduated, though I’m not sure if they were performance majors). Though they started out as buskers in subway stations, they were discovered by solo artist Mike Doughty and found themselves “playing above ground” and even opening for bands like Lotus and They Might Be Giants.

Wait, They Might Be Giants? Then what are you doing out here?

James ignores the question’s rudeness and gives me a straight answer, plus a big winning smile: “We started out on the streets. And now we’re bringing our music back to the streets.” Handshakes all around.

In short: These guys are wonderful. I just bought their album on Bandcamp. If you like funky dance music with a good story behind it, you’d be well-advised to do the same.

New Order: Yale’s Fashion Phenomenon

The link to this has been broken on the Herald’s website for a while, so I’ve re-posted it. I took a photo of the hair: you’ll see it soon enough. (Note that all this is nearly a year out of date at this point; the site has only gotten cooler since.)


Bass Café is a terrible place to meet up. Because it’s such a great place to meet up, the tables are packed, and I’m wandering fruitlessly in search of Dorian Grinspan SY ’14. Yale Facebook tells me he’s a worried, bushy-haired brunette who looks nothing like the future king of college fashion. No one seems to fit—but then I turn and see someone who could indeed be that king.

His smile brings extra sunlight into the underground coffee shop, though he hasn’t picked up a tan from the glow. His sweater looks hand-woven. And his hair is spectacular—a waterfall in defiance of gravity, it pours away from his forehead and washes over his temples.

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The Floodgates Open: Out of Order Edition

My work thus far for Out of Order, the hip magazine for college students and twentysomethings founded by Yale’s own Dorian Grinspan (but featuring the work of writers from all over the place).

Robert Adams: The Place We Live

My review of a show featuring photographer Robert Adams at the Yale University Art Gallery (now closed, but appearing in many other cities for the next year or so).

“Adams shoots stunning landscapes, often with miles of visibility, but despite the title of the exhibition, you don’t feel as if you could live there. His houses are mostly abstractions, claustrophobic, while his forests are dense and wild or slashed apart and scattered over barren mountainsides. In one of the many segments of the exhibition, “Summer Nights,” he closes in on suburban life, capturing happy parents and children, as well as cars and stores that provide a sense of plenty rather than imposing themselves on the landscape. But even Adams’ vision of the standard American Dream can feel disconcerting. A tilt-o-whirl spins without a rider in sight, looking very alone in the wide, gray night; tree shadows envelop a house and block out the windows; another home is shot in a cloud of what could be fog or smog. ‘We call that one ‘Murder House’,’ Chuang notes.”

Review: The Perks of Being a Wallflower

“Strange to say, I liked this verbal movie most when Chbosky’s voice is stilled. There are a few marvelous depictions of Charlie on drugs, embracing a soft and wobbly world, and when tragedy sharpens his perspective, scowls and bruises speak louder than words. When Charlie falls in love, cinematography and Emma Watson’s eyes do more work than any voiceover possibly could. Unfortunately, the last third of the movie leaves too much unsaid—which seems to be the fault of the source material.”

Review: Calvin Harris, 18 Months

“Harris has a signature sound when you hear his work plastered together.Trouble is, that sound is nothing to write home about—and the further you get from the dance floor, the more certain aspects of his method confound you. Listening to 18 Months alongside his first two albums, I Created Disco (2007) and Ready For the Weekend (2012), you might think they’re in reverse chronological order. His present melodies call to mind Philip Glass getting drunk and discovering Ableton Live, banging out repetitive chord structures while forgetting to add new ideas after the first minute.”

Spin NYC: A Visit to Another World

I lounge awhile in the Big Apple’s fanciest ping-pong club.

“I can’t compete with the stars of my college basement, but my slice is on today, giving me an edge over my girlfriend, who sends balls sailing in every direction. At first, we give in to the urge to run for them, but soon it becomes clear that our bucket will never empty. An employee wanders the floor, using an ingenious basket-on-a-stick device to grab what rolls away, dumping his collection into customers’ buckets from time to time (even in the mid-afternoon, there are a few other players; mostly tourists, I’d guess). I ask Gordon whether anyone’s ever slipped. ‘Not in three years. The balls crush under the pressure before you lose your balance.'”