Show Review -- MMOSS January 11, 2011, Middle East Upstairs



January 11, 2011, Middle East Upstairs 

I had resigned myself to the fact that I was born in the wrong decade, that I would never have the opportunity to see great psychedelic music played live. Sure, I could catch the elderly hippies on their reunion tours, playing watered down versions of their 30-year old hits, made tame for their equally elderly audience. But to see the real thing, being written and created by contemporary musicians and performed with a fresh passion that captures my image of those classic shows of the late Sixties; I was sure I was out of luck. Enter MMOSS. 

On a cold Tuesday night, with an impending blizzard that would shut down much of New England the following day, I trekked into Cambridge for MMOSS’ show at the Middle East Upstairs. Given the coming storm, the small upstairs room was respectably filled with more than 100 people.  

I’ve always been fascinated with the dichotomy of psychedelic music; it’s at once dark and mournful, while at the same time hopeful and cathartic. What is it that makes these opposing emotions so pleasing and how is it that they can be expressed in song, both at the same time? I still don’t know the answer to those questions, but when MMOSS took the stage they struck the balance that I’d been hoping for.  

Watching MMOSS play, I started to understand, at a whole new level, artists’ return to analog equipment. Two songs into their set – about halfway through one of their newest releases, “Another Dream” – singer, keyboardist, and flutist Rachel became one with her Farfisa organ. In a fugue-like state, long hair covering her face, it seemed she might crawl directly into the instrument; connecting with it at some deep level that was both emotional and tactile. I was reminded of watching Jon Lord of Deep Purple play his organ – tricked out with rockers so that he could literally hold the enormous instrument – moving it in rhythm to the music. As I watched Rachel play I understood on a whole new level that you simply couldn’t feel the music the same way when playing a plastic Casio keyboard.  

Doug’s guitar-work and vocals round out the late-Sixties vibe. His deep, monotone delivery – vaguely reminiscent of Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth – was supported with amazing harmonies from the entire band. The vocal harmonies are easy enough to pull together in the studio, but MMOSS managed to maintain the tight vocal delivery; no simple task in a live environment.  

The fact that each band member contributes vocally lent to the communal vibe. No one was lost on the stage or played only a supporting role. Even though Rachel and Doug were the clear focal points of the live set, Brian on bass and Justin on drums were both critical to the delivery and were still front and center in the delivery.  

During their third song and newest release, “Wander”, Rachel broke out the flute, a go-to instrument during the late-Sixties which has been mostly ignored in contemporary rock. In MMOSS’ hands the flute took center stage, trading leads with Doug’s guitar. Not since Jethro Tull have I seen a rock band feature the flute so prominently. Credit the sound-board guy at the Middle East for managing to keep it front and center in the mix. It could have all too easily been lost in the din of guitar, bass and drums.  

Following “Wander”, they ran through most of the tracks on their debut release, i. Notable highlights were “Grow Down” and “Hedge Creeper”. On album most of their songs clock in at around three-and-a-half minutes. Played live, they extended, in true jam-band fashion, to six and seven minutes, which gave the band the opportunity to explore the songs and gave the songs themselves more room to breath. As thrilling as it was to experience a real psychedelic love-fest and see MMOSS’ more jammy sensibilities, I was equally excited to hear some darker tendencies in their live performance. Although from the same late-Sixties era but from a completely different scene, the Velvet Underground crept into some of the songs and lent a dirtier, garagey feel to their delivery.  

Closing out the set with “Come What May”, MMOSS sent the crowd home just before one o’clock in the morning as the first flakes of the blizzard began to fly.  

Catch MMOSS at Church in Boston on Saturday, February 5th (9:00 p.m.). Also on the bill are Thick Shakes (10:00 p.m.), Lyres (11:00 p.m.) and The Major Stars (midnight). 

--George Dow