Moshi Moshi, Mexicali Blues, Teaneck, NJ- 2/6
Language lesson one: Moshi Moshi means "hello" in Japanese. Language lesson two: it's most common to utter Moshi Moshi as a phone greeting. Communication through technology, there has never been a better way to describe the Disco Biscuits' sound.
A four-year old side-project of Biscuit Keyboardist Aaron Magner and drummer Sam Altman, Moshi Moshi is best viewed as an evolving experiment. An interactive way for the Biscuits' less visible half to connect on stage, Moshi Moshi has never aimed to recapture the Disco Biscuit experience in its entirety. Instead, the duo have explored new variations on many of their group's usual dub, electronica, and computer-generated sounds by placing these influences in a different context. Without Jon Gutwillig's lead-guitar and Marc Brownstein's heavy bass, Moshi Moshi allows its audience to hear some of the Disco Biscuits technical subtleties. It's also allowed the group's electronic underbelly to play around with some new sounds and, in Altman's case, completely different instruments.
Born at the Knitting Factory January 2000, Moshi Moshi was originally known as Ah Moshi Moshi, featuring Magner on Keyboards and Altman on his Powerbook. Arising again during between Disco Biscuit touring breaks, Moshi Moshi has alternated its name to reflect its various incarnations: 2002's Moshi Moshi Baby! included a female vocalist by the name of Liz and last Fall's Ah Moshi Moshi reverted back to its duo lineup, al albeit added by additional keyboards, computers, and Altman's old electric-bass. Having expanded Moshi Moshi sonic plate over the past few years, and engaged in Magner/Altman interludes during Disco Biscuit performances this fall, Moshi Moshi's recent moniker shortening reflects their tightness in style and expanded arsenal of instruments. But when the duo arrived in Teaneck, New Jersey for their Friday night performance, the best way to describe their aura is still a relaxed musical experiment. Sure the group introduced some danceable grooves and dub beats into their musical mix, but Moshi Moshi incorporates a Pro-tools approach in their layering. Extracting bits and pieces of danceable grooves, Moshi Moshi meshes the New Deal's video-game sounds with the Biscuits' darker psychedelics.
Adding a bit of structure to their largely improvised set list, Moshi Moshi introduced several Disco Biscuits staples into their repertoire this go-around. Peppering Friday's performance with "Spaga," "Digital Buddha," and the recently debuted "Oname'Wa," Moshi Moshi sampled bits and pieces of each song as if they were beats, juxtaposing their lyrics against computer loops and electronic beats. Though thoroughly enjoyable, many in attendance described these renditions as "strange," an apt response given their sparse, guitar-less readings. But, like the best side-project, Magner and Altman will likely learn new ways to wrap their fingers around these songs when the Disco Biscuits next regroup. Moshi Moshi also seemed to stem its recent pair of performances, which also included a North Star date the previous week, from the Disco Biscuits "Panda Set" during its New Years Battle of the Bands. Including a composition based around the word "Sushi" and Japanese inspired Anime as a visual third member, Moshi Moshi will most likely be seen as bridge between the Biscuits' New Years run and future 2004 quartet work.
Observing the duo's personas up close also proved an interesting spectacle. Dressed in a polo shirt and dark spectacles, Altman seemed more focused and brainy than he ever has with the Biscuits. Jumping between an iMac computer, several keyboard toys, and more traditional percussion, Altman helped carry the duo's bass lines, as well as providing his share of danceable drum-beats. Altman also offered several fuzzy, and at times bluesy, guitar solos giving a bit of texture and definition to their songs. Originally a bassist in high-school, Altman assumed the Disco Biscuits low-end on occasion during Marc Brownstein's six-month hiatus during the spring of 2000, a style of playing his deep, guitar rigs simulated last Friday. Often described as a drumming machine with the Biscuits, Altman treated his instruments in a more gentle fashion, creating some interesting mixes via his supped-up computer. But Magner, almost hidden behind his keyboards, provided the evening's musical pulse, bouncing between his plastic-ivory and laptop computer will adolescent adrenaline. Occasionally adding bits of vocal passages, and taking a quick cigarette break during an Altman solo, Magner acted as Moshi Moshi frotman and proved himself an apt bandleader. As Moshi Moshi becomes more of a band, and less of a loose limbed jam session, Magner has clearly started to incorporate more of a professional approach to his side-project.
aAlternating between fast, danceable beats and more abstract, video game noises, Moshi Moshi's sound succeed in filling Mexicali Blues' intimate club setting. The group's video-projections, which jumped between psychedelic colors and dancing animation figures, were akin to both a club-rave and PS2 tournament, much like the show itself. As most of the audience mingled, and took advantage of the club's well-stocked bar, Moshi Moshi provided a relaxed, but always interesting, night of improvisation. Sure sometime the duo's experiments dragged, but Chemistry has never been a completely clean process. Either way, Moshi Moshi provided a healthy way for the musicians to stay fit during the Disco Biscuits' off-season.