Review: Poor Moon – The Ruby Lounge, Manchester

With the Seattle-based Fleet Foxes taking time out from their heart-warming, bearded folk endeavours, space opened up this year for a number of its members to immerse themselves in side-projects and solo ventures. One such side-project is that of Foxes’ Casey Wescott and Christian Wargo, who earlier this year, teamed up with brothers Peter and Ian Murray of the under-the-radar outfit, The Christmas Cards. Under the moniker Poor Moon (named after Wargo’s favourite song by Canned Heat), the four-piece released their Illusion EP in March this year, and are set to release their debut, self-titled album this week.

Having graced the ever-delightful End Of The Road Festival with their presence this weekend, Poor Moon visited Manchester for one of only three UK shows this September. Support came from Sunderland band Lilliput, who did a fine job of opening the night with their somewhat-fitting Fleet Fox-style harmonies, plucky acoustics and a plethora of percussion. They have great potential to follow in the footsteps of their obvious Seattle influences, but one would hope that their sound becomes more identifiable as they grow as a band.

Whether Poor Moon were expecting a slightly larger crowd (as were we),  just wanted to hit it hard, or I’m getting too old too quickly, the band began their set with a particularly boisterous boom, opening with the softly recorded track Holiday. It was a shame that Murray’s guitar was notably overpowering and tended to drown out Wargo’s distinctive, almost Art Garfunkel sounding vocals. Nevertheless, as the church bell sounds from Wescott and the brilliant rolling drums from an un-named drummer heightened the explosion of sound, it became apparent that this was how they generally performed, and in time, we became glad of their choice.

With the inclusion of washboards, xylophones and some wonderful harmonies from Murray, Wescott and Wargo, the band became settled during the following tracks, with Phantom Light being a particular stand-out, with its upbeat harpsichord clashing with the somewhat sombre lyrics, ‘The light that comes from the old man’s home, they say, started when he passed away’.

It would be difficult not to mention Fleet Foxes at any point, as the outbreak of stunning harmonies beautifully littered the set. And, though many have perfected it in the past, Pecknold and co. now tend to be recognised as the masters of this art. Moreover, Wargo and Wescott’s Crystal Skulls cannot go without being mentioned, as their 60’s jangly, indie-folk influences were also obviously referenced throughout the set, taking inspiration from the likes of The Doors, Crosby, Stills and Nash, and more recently, Real Estate.

Playing numerous tracks from their March EP, Illusion, the band seemed to look a little more comfortable than throughout the rest of the set, performing the likes of Once Before with its infectious drumbeat and catchy lyrics, the soft and rolling Any Place, and the EP stand-out track People In Her Mind, possibly the biggest step away from the bands’ previous ventures.

Interaction with the crowd was few and far between, but when it did spout between instrument changes, Murray and Wargo led the humour with their attempts at English profanity, stories of picking an exciting, new restaurant named Pizza Hut for their dinner and later, a genuine thank you to the crowd for ‘coming out and giving them a chance’. The band then concluded with album-opener Clouds Below, home to some rather pleasant birdsong whistles, before bringing the set to an end with album-closer Birds.

If you are looking for a Fleet Foxes style-band with a lean-back 60’s sound, then Poor Moon’s self-titled album certainly delivers in this regard. However live, Wescott, Wargo and the Murray brothers turn it up a notch, and references to their regular outfits tend to go unnoticed but for their impressive and welcomed harmonies. Some have been quick to criticise Wargo for keeping too close to the Fleet Foxes fence, but one would be eager to challenge these suggestions, having witnessed their live performance. It would be too easy to jump to such conclusions, and one would prefer to judge Poor Moon as the individual and highly-talented act that they are…