Returning in kind: Bob Moses play to an adoring hometown crowd

Bob Moses - Main Press ShotWalking into Bob Moses’s homecoming at the Imperial, one would never have guessed it was a Wednesday night. The Brooklyn-via-Vancouver dance duo packed the venue from floor to ceiling, with fans standing on the cushy seats along the walls and some perched even higher on the bar, like one of the half-dozen-or-so Terracotta Warrior statues that watches the crowd from above.

London, England’s Liam Wachs, aka Desert Sound Colony, opened with a set full of booming backtracks that he used to accompany his electric guitar. His backtracks were intricate, morphing frequently rather than looping infinitely, which left little sense of spontaneity. Fortunately, his compositions were captivating enough that their prescribed character was not an issue, especially given the solo context. And credit goes to the recordings’ quality (or the house speakers’): backtracks often sound canned, but his sounded as lively as any band.

As Wachs’s set progressed, his cozy funk became more rock-oriented. Rhythmic guitar-strokes gradually effaced the blustery, wintry subtleties of his soundscapes. His voice lost its plaintive smoothness, but his singing often wilted back into more spoken delivery.

Many of his songs flowed into one another, leaving little room for applause. But even before he asked, “How are we feeling, Vancouver?” pockets of people had already begun getting down together in the middle of the floor. And sometimes, they couldn’t help themselves from clapping and cheering. “I Get Fixed” earned one such moment. Applauding or not, as fans chatted with him, slapped hands with him, and even pulled in for hugs when he began taking down his gear, it was clear that his icy but funky music was a hit.

“Hit” would not even begin to describe the reception of Bob Moses. Although the visual aspects of their performance did not live up to the promise of their multi-screen set-up (five rectangular sheets of increasingly large dimensions hung in front of each other), the duo over-delivered in every other way.

The projections repeated themselves all night: a sequence of squares outlined in white, fingerprint patterns, crystalline shapes that complemented the shafts of bold, overlapping (never mixing) violet and navy lights. But the songs, which on record average as long as six-and-a-half minutes, remained in constant fluid motion.

Bob Moses balanced a mix of new and old material. Dank, brooding set-opener “Talk” and “Like It Or Not” (the lead track from last month’s debut LP Days Gone By) sandwiched the glacial “Far from the Tree”, from their 2013 EP of the same name. Guitarist/vocalist Tom Howie and synth-player Jimmy Vallance frequently mentioned their Vancouver roots, often before delving into older tunes like “Hands to Hold” and Winter’s Song”.

“Now we’re going to get a little romantic and sexy,” Howie said before slipping into the sensuous “Before I Fall”. For once, the crowd didn’t burst into dance, but they did groove along with the downtempo jam.

Songs like “Grace” made it abundantly clear that Bob Moses don’t just employ guitar for nuance – the six strings are integral to their sound. But never was the guitar’s importance more stated than on what followed: “This song’s called ‘Tearing Me Up’,” Howie said, not that the arguable crown jewel of Days Gone By needed any introduction. (Although, the Surrealist dribbles of synth on the album’s title-track were perhaps the greatest musical highlights of the night, effusing a chilly, cavernous aura through the high-ceilinged venue.)

Bob Moses follow a minimalist aesthetic, from their album art to their stripped compositions. Their downbeat electro imbues an arctic chill – an isolating sensation. These are common tropes, especially for underground DJs, as is the silent, head-down producer who grooves to themselves onstage (if there is one).

But Bob Moses were anything but insulated or unapproachable. Given the right context, their music is just as capable of wrapping up listeners like a blanket that’s just thin enough to be warm. And it’s through their musical minimalism, and attention to lyrical detail, that they’re able to bare their souls to such empathetic effect.

Howie and Vallance also threw out such pretensions and stereotypes with their liveliness, fully engaged not with the crowd but with their crowd. Vallance was a great hype-man for themselves, getting the crowd to clap along throughout the night, throwing “Give me more” hand gestures and cupping his ear as the crowd cheered. “Vancouver! How we feelin’!? Fuck, it feels good to be home!” he exclaimed before settling into “Too Much is Never Enough”.

Following the pendulum swagger of “Touch and Go”, a song which naturally unfolded into an electric sizzler by its conclusion, Bob Moses closed with a single-song encore of “All I Want”. And still, after the hour-and-a-half show, the crowd chanted, “One more song!” Given the love Bob Moses showed their hometown crowd and the love Vancouver reciprocated, it was clear: there will be a next time.

Leslie Ken Chu

Leslie Ken Chu