Backstage, with one of America’s hottest young bands as they prepared for their encore.
Bourbon shots, elevated minds exalting all the emotions that had brewed within us over three hours. The night was almost orgasmic – an extraordinary success.
The crowd roared through the doors: “Moon Taxi, Moon Taxi, Moon Taxi!”
The five rock stars (Trevor Terndrup, Tommy Putnam, Wes Bailey, Spencer Thomson and Tyler Ritter) discussed possible songs for an encore as the crowd’s anxiety grew with every second. The band exited through the doors to a mass of tantalizing women, beer-driven men and most of all, crazed-Moon Taxi fans.
How the hell did I get here? How had I befriended and opened for a band on the cusp of stardom at a small bar called Zazoo’s in Louisville, Kentucky?
It all began a year ago in Lexington, Kentucky.
One fateful night, my ex-girlfriend and I stumbled into my favorite place in Lexington, a place a called Cosmic Charlie’s. Unaware of the lineup, I grabbed a stranger and asked who was playing tonight.
“Moon Taxi, man! They are like, this totally awesome jam band, like they’re ill dude” he warned me.
The band began to play. It was an instantaneous dance party of epic proportions, and it lasted for what seemed forever; which was not long enough.
The guitars dueled fire, the bass was “funkin”, the drums rattled my bones, the keys flew faster than jazz and the voice wrapped it all tighter than Saran Wrap. These rockers jammed, but never reached that stagnant point of a song dragging on for way too long.
Pete Townsend would have bowed after Taxi played The Who’s cult classic, “Baba O’ Riley.” The band told us to dance, dance, and dance some more. Real dance, and not this ever-so-popular dry humping typically laced with vulgarity. You know what I am talking about! The crowd jumped in harmony and lifted their arms as we all went down the roller coaster of Moon Taxi. For Fun and only Fun.
Did I mention they’re one of the best live performers in the country?
A power legend cedes to the moon and the origins of the band’s name. Trevor, the lead voice of the band, told me:
We had to name the band before a gig in college. One night we were doing some drinking, and amateur philosophizing, as we began to discuss how music could be a transcending and transformative power. You can influence human beings with the power of sound; move them with music as music can take you places, literally and figuratively. The moon is just like music as it to holds power to shape our everyday lives, to move us, to affect our emotions. That shared-influence between the moon and music, and music being a source of soulful transportation, is how we came up with the name… Moon Taxi.
Maybe the moon influenced my trip to Cosmic’s that night, but all astrology aside, I had become a fan. I was all aboard the Moon Taxi.
A year later, and one more Moon Taxi show under my belt, my own band, Funny Bones, had found a niche at Louisville’s very own, Zazoo’s. Hunter Embry, of The New Vintage Showcase, knew of Moon Taxi and with my constant heckling, he booked the band, and put us on the bill.
The Trinity of Zazoo’s Shows
It was a Thursday night last October, with Whiskey Bent Valley Boys as openers and us, Funny Bones, as the “late-night” entertainment after Taxi played. Expectations were unclear. The Taxi arrived around eight.
I quickly learned these guys were down right dudes; southern gentlemen, humble but very confident in their trade. They are modern-day-southern-cowboys riding the bumpy road that is a career in the music industry.
About 30 people showed, but the band and crowd savored every second of it. The boys found the sound and the venue keen and booked a return-show.
Show two came in February, and brought greater success. In the midst of a weekly gig at Zazoo’s, I had met a certain Benjamin Mercke and his girlfriend Haley Jenks; they happened to be avid Moon Taxi fans living in the heart of St. Matthews.
The previous Zazoo’s show was unknown to the young couple and they were upset by the thought of missing a show right in the neighborhood.
For Show #2, they contacted other Taxi veterans, and with the few fans of Funny Bones, the decent following of Louisville’s, The Instruction, and a now fast growing base of Moon Taxi fanatics in Louisville, Zazoo’s was set ablaze with a sold-out crowd; crammed into the small venue.
30 people to 200-plus in just a few months…
“I like the band’s interaction with the crowd,” said Ben Mercke when asked about why he loves the band.
“Everyone is always having a fun time at a Moon Taxi show. They are nice guys who just enjoy the fans. They’re great musicians, too.”
“I don’t try and be something I am not,” said Trevor. “I just go up there, relax, be myself and have fun. I want to look everyone in the eye and let them know I am having fun up there, and to encourage them to do the same.”
Being in the frenzy of a Moon Taxi crowd is like having sex on an airplane – dangerous, sweaty, and in tight quarters – but worth every last sensational second. The band debuted a few songs included on their upcoming release, “Cabaret.” Later that night, they unleashed a firestorm playing the infamous Rage Against the Machine classic, “Bulls on Parade.” The crowd was alive with animal energy; the line between human and beast evaporated.
Here’s the band playing it at Bonnaroo:
“Our music does weird things to people, man,” said Tyler Ritter, the force behind Moon Taxi’s beat on drums. ”On New Year’s Eve, we had to stop playing because of a huge love triangle fight that broke out. It’s insane to see fist fights break out at your show; sometimes all of these hormones bust out that we did not know we could induce,”
In April, the band requested that Funny Bones open up for them; our third show together at Zazoo’s. Taxi hit the stage around 11, enveloped by steamed windows from the energy of a Funny Bones’ fission.
Hipsters, plaid-lovers, yuppies decked in Polo, Fedora-wearing women, ladies in red, all dancing in unison with not a care in the world. The crowd went tribal, virtually from leaping atop one another, when the band covered “Closer,” by Nine Inch Nails.
“I have a lot of fun playing “Closer” man. People seem to get wild for that one,” said Spencer Thomson, the arson behind Taxi’s fiery guitar work.
Now, back to the beginning to this strange story…
The band left me backstage to appease the enraged crowd. It was Haley Jenks’ birthday and she found her way on stage for the encore. Haley, who spent time as Funny Bones’ tambourine-shaker, began to dance on stage. I reached inside my bag and tossed the tambourine to her as the band and crowd began to sing her happy birthday.
“All I can say is that it was a lot of fun. I don’t really have words to describe the feelings I had onstage. It was funky, and exciting,” gasped Jenks.
The band then launched into Cabaret and rocked out with the birthday girl on stage. It was a heart-felt moment and a full-on display of the band’s appreciation for their fans, and the fans’ appreciation for their band.
(Cabaret Video) http://vimeo.com/29106217
“When you are on the road a lot, you get to know a lot of the people in different cities at your shows and befriend them. You get excited to see familiar faces,” explained Tyler. The road can be quite the experience. Wes told me his favorite thing is to watch things grow and blossom in towns, he and the band watch and keep track of their online analytics and mentions in the social networking world.
But the road can be tough; try finding something good to eat in gas station America. “There are only so many granola bars you can eat,” said Spencer, “but the fans make it all worthwhile.”
Band-aids are still alive in the modern era. Fans, people and music lovers are what lets Rock & Roll hold on to its last dying breaths, thereby saving us from the eternal damnation of brain-numbing radio hits. Moon Taxi’s journey is proof that the American Dream still exists in the music business. Success will come if you have product comparable to none. Trevor shared similar sentiment in talking about the responsibilities of becoming a bigger band:
All we can really do is be the best Moon Taxi we can be, and hope that the recognition follows. The greater the exposure, the closer to perfection we must be.
Exposure never tasted as sweet to the band as it did for their set at Bonnaroo 2012 last month. More than 10,000 people gathered to ride the Taxi for their Thursday night set. As Moon Taxi puts it in one of their recent hits, it was “All the rage.”
Swarms and swarms of people just kept coming during our sound check,” Tyler said. “It was just insane man, in every essence of the word. It felt good, and right, being in front of that crowd. The past five years led up to that night; it is such an intense feeling to know so many want you up there, to play your music, to be yourself.
“We are ready for more.”
“Bonnaroo definitely was a great feeling but we want to keep chugging along,” Spencer said.
Videos, blogs and rumors from Bonnaroo hint that Moon Taxi was one of the biggest surprise hits of the festival weekend.
Their self-dubbed genre of Ameritrana, (which they should patent) set the huge gathering into a frenzy. Heavy synthesizers, rattling drums, sweet resonating delay effects on vibrato-filled vocals, funky bass riffs and crafty guitar solos blasted Taxi’s biggest crowd yet.
The band’s biggest summer yet hasn’t even climaxed. They have a set at the elite Chicago festival, Lollapalooza, and have started touring with international superstar, Matisyahu.
Most importantly for you and me, they have their sails set for a Sunday spot at Louisville’s biggest musical stage: The Forecastle Festival. And it’s about damn time ….
“Our first Louisville show was at an old abandoned airplane hanger for a frat-festival called Sigma-Palooza. Wes was still underage at the time and got hit with a citation when the cops busted the party up,” Spencer said reminiscing.
The band is ecstatic about playing Forecastle, as it is a celebration of all things Louisville; one of the band’s favorite cities.
The festival is a cultural-reflection of our city’s taste in music, food and entertainment. It’s a showcase of our people. “I love the people in Louisville,” said Trevor. Tommy said,“I’ve been to Forecastle before and had a blast. It’s going to be awesome to see it from an artist’s standpoint. I am most excited for MMJ and Wilco.”
Wes Bailey, a modern day Jimmy Smith, expressed his thoughts on his Louisville experiences.
For me it has just been crazy to watch things unfold in Louisville. We loved playing at the Hideaway, but really did not find our niche; then somehow we lucked into some opening gigs at Headliners, which led to meeting some new people but it too eventually fizzled. Finally, we just really have found a home at Zazoo’s and playing with you guys (Funny Bones). It’s fun and everyone takes care of us. Plus, Louisville people just love to party; we always get asked to the after-party when we get into town, and that is nice. And now we get to play Forecastle, woo-hoo!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hk6MHrPHCUU&feature=related (the band years ago at Headliners.)
It has been a long five-year road for the band.
All the boys are from Belmont University in Nashville, and their style, success and talent reflects many of the great acts coming from the newest epicenter in American music. Moon Taxi has been tried and tested; they’re now ready for anything thrown their way. Who knows what the future will hold? Will it be long before we hear Taxi songs in commercials or see them shake hands with Letterman?
How soon will it be before they are too big to fit into Zazoo’s? Will there be discussion of Moon Taxi “selling-out” and becoming “mainstream?”
Whatever the future holds, I wanted to tell this story from an inside perspective as Moon Taxi finds itself on the cusp of greatness.
I’ve had a unique experience in being a fan, an opener and now a friend to these guys. Everyone else I know who has been involved with the boys (Friends, band-mates & other Fans) are infatuated with Moon Taxi, and will forever cheer them on in their journey to fame.
We do this because Moon Taxi has done something for us; moved us to places we did not know we could go. They have given us emotions and sensations that only they can induce, and like an addict we come back again and again craving that high. The band has helped promote my band, and motivate me to continue forward on this uncertain road, and I am so very thankful for that.
Gracious rock-gods in a world depraved by greed.
Louisville, Moon Taxi loved you a long time, so please be prepared to reciprocate with these living, breathing, walking-talking god-damned rock and roll stars; be ready! It’s a fast tempo ride to paradise.
I’ll see everyone at Forecastle. I plan to rendezvous with the band, and join the crowd for the dance on Sunday.
Moon Taxi goes on at 5:30 p.m.