"We can sink some Pro Plus… or some sex pills," suggests a dazed Christian Wargo as an after gig "treat" for the intimate crowd.
The singer’s proposal feels like a far cry from the pastoral whimsy of the Fleet Foxes of which Wargo and his fellow, bearded (of course) Poor Mooner, Casey Wescott, are members. However, Poor Moon is one of those rare side projects that categorically works.
Fleet Foxes, which is controlled by pack leader Robin Pecknold, tip-toed their folkie feet into prog-rock on their latest album, Helplessness Blues, but Wargo and Wescott go further on their debut Poor Moon (named after the Canned Heat track from 1966), experimenting with a range of sounds (they employ a harpsichord, marimba and fretless zither tonight) without losing those soaring, haunting harmonies.
The duo are assisted by brothers Ian and Peter Murray, from little-known indie act The Christmas Cards, and apparently this Pacific Northwest "supergroup" have been swapping song ideas for four years. The themes, as with the Fleet Foxes’ material, are not terribly taxing: flowing rivers, heaven’s door, golden flowers, the early morning light, summer breezes, losing the trail, forlorn love, passing away… But the live sound is sumptuous, and even gets away with jaybirds tweeting and crickets chirping as on "Clouds Below". Ultimately, however much these artists are trying to extend themselves the twee(t) message is clear, their sound is still a safe place; this is more Little House on the Prairie than Straw Dogs.
Nevertheless, Poor Moon’s influences are legion; languid, lolloping tracks such as "Come Home", "People in Her Mind" (from their breezy EP Illusions) and "Birds" recall The Byrds, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Big Star, George Harrison, the Beach Boys (particularly Pet Sounds), JJ Cale and Paul Simon.
Wargo's awkward on-stage banter could do with some honing, though. "We played in Manchester last night," he drawls at one point before being corrected by Ian Murray. “Er, we didn't play in Manchester last night… Darn." It barely matters as Wargo's heavenly vocals consistently satisfy, as on tonight’s two standout tracks, the evocative "Waiting For" and the melancholic "Pulling Me Down", with the tangy lyric "I couldn't keep it silent, I didn't know that sadness could be so violent."
It must be a little odd for Wargo and Wescott to be performing on such a tiny stage after the mammoth success of the Fleet Foxes, but they appear at home here, relaxed with their free-wheeling flights of whimsy. Two foxes could well be fleeing the pack soon…
Sitting by the Riverside
Hindsight in New Jersey
No Good Trying
People in Her Mind
Pulling Me Down