Justin Moody, Corey R-J, A Cloud For Climbing, & Old Hours Axiom 3/22/14
Peoria is not the first suburb that comes to mind when Phoenicians think live music -- hell, it's not even likely to be the fourth or fifth suburb for that matter. However, nestled behind a string of fluorescent-lit dealerships just off of Bell Road and the 101 hides Axiom, a less-than-likely venue that played host last night to Valley folk darlings Justin Moody and Old Hours, electronic solo act A Cloud For Climbing and Massachusetts' Corey R-J.
While the lineup felt thematic in terms of genre, it ended up being an eclectic mix whose small attendance was more a reflection of the locale than the talent.
Singer-songwriter Justin Moody translates the same unpolished heartache from his past work into his live show, losing none of his messages in the process. Switching between his chromed resonator and a vintage Epiphone acoustic, he benefited from some of the best sound of the evening with just a miked guitar and a vocal mic laden with reverb.
Moody plays the latest songs from his upcoming record with a refined sense of emotion, sometimes affected by his own work yet rarely making eye contact with the crowd. It's like watching him try out the songs in his bedroom for the first time -- well-rehearsed and raw, yelping it out when the lyrics get tough. A strong signifier of the night to come, Moody's approach was darker at times but set the mood for the stories to be told.
Boston made its way to Arizona in the form of Corey Ross-Jenkinson, a singer-songwriter from the Bay State who shortens his last name to "R-J" for the stage, with compatriot Kara Lia on backing him up on keys. Ross-Jenkinson leans on the technical side of the singer-songwriter aesthetic, looping and sampling his own percussive playing on the fly.
There's strong songwriting here, especially on a song like "Constant Motion," launching into a slick halftime shift halfway through as he tosses clean fretwork over top of it. A defined mix is a must for all the writing components at play here though, and Axiom was lacking: Lia's vocals got lost in the punchy midrange of Ross-Jenkinson's playing, her keys picking up too much low-end, all unfortunately leading to a muddled mess at times.
A Cloud For Climbing smacks of a twisted, drugged-out Ratatat, but in the best way possible -- Brock Lefferts, the man behind the moniker, hasn't amassed such a devout local following for nothing. Shifting between shoegazing, spaced-out guitar work and layered tracks that sounds straight from the depths of a Toro y Moi record, he's in a class of his own here in the Valley.
Armed with the unusual guitar choice of a Fender Jaguarillo, a Macbook Pro, a synth and a controller pad, Lefferts played a freewheeling set with no breaks between "songs," opting to let each structure flow into another. No other approach would have suited his work as well, but he did clock in at the longest set of the night, reaching close to 45 minutes -- well over what other bands played.
With 808s and handclap samples as parts of his percussive sections, A Cloud For Climbing would have been better suited to a venue with a larger crowd that could dig into such a set. Lefferts stood out in the night's lineup, but likely due to the inclusion of an electronic artist among a trio of folk-leaning artists.
Show closers Old Hours, composed of vocalist/guitarist Nathaniel Walberer and vocalist Anna Carlson, brought the tightest set of the evening. Even if judged solely on turnout alone, Old Hours has its share of local love for good reason -- there's a wonderful harmonic interplay between Walberer and Carlson that's as infectious to watch as it is to hear.
Whipping through their set, including the airy "Wolf River" and a quick medley that segued Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire" into one of their own original tunes, Old Hours has an ability to make time pass quickly and leaves the listener wanting more. They're minimalist in approach, but there's a rich sense of musicality to their work.
Axiom is left-field in both location and booking decisions, but it's a sizable spot with a setup that exceeds expectations of a venue housed in an office park. The overall singer-songwriter vibe of the evening, while more coffee shop than anything else, seemed to hint at the potential of the space. Even with lackluster attendance, it's a peek into what Peoria might have to offer in the future -- they just need the crowd above their curation.
Last Night: Justin Moody, Corey R-J, A Cloud For Climbing and Old Hours at Axiom.
Personal Bias: I'm a sucker for put-together girl-and-boy folk acts -- She & Him positively ruined me.
The Crowd: Smattering of hipsters, mostly high school kids that made me feel old as hell.
Overhead in the Crowd: "Crocs are like having a pet: You have to keep them in A/C, you have to wash them and take care of them."
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Random Notebook Dump: I'd rather get knifed at a show downtown than get hit by an old woman in a Lexus in Peoria.