San Francisco — I am constantly astounded at the sheer size of the United States. Most of the time, we aren’t really thinking about the big picture, just catching a glimpse of a map of the nation on weather reports here and there. We usually think about this country in terms of its fifty individual parts. When you’ve spent as much time as I have actually navigating the country’s highways, you begin to understand how vast and diverse the United States actually is as a whole, with each region boasting its own beauties and eccentricities. But for every pro there is at least one con, and there are dangers lurking behind every region’s delightful idiosyncrasies. During my travels I’ve avoided most of the central part of the country due to my somewhat irrational fear of tornadoes, and the sweltering, electricity-free days following a summertime hurricane in New Orleans were never my favorite. As a New England native I’m no stranger to cold, but the winters of the upper Midwest always seemed more extreme than anything else, so it’s no surprise that the music of Minneapolis band Night Moves is steeped in harmonic warmth that seeps in through the ears and slides down your spine, like a hot cup of cocoa for the soul.
Night Moves is the brainchild of singer-songwriter John Pelant and his longtime friend and collaborator Micky Alfano. The duo’s music is a blend of modern and classic rock styles tinged with a hint of country and some bursts of psychedelia, much in the tradition of the Night Moves’ numerous influences, ranging from Todd Rundgren to Minneapolis legend Prince (R.I.P.). The band’s second LP, Pennied Days was released back in March, after a meticulous four years of writing, recording, and mastering the new material since the release of 2012’s debut album, Colored Emotions. Night Moves is celebrating the release with a stretch of dates throughout the U.S. during the month of May, with Jared Isabella (drums), Wes Statler (keys), and Chuck Murlowski (guitar) in tow. The five-piece touring band stopped by San Francisco’s cozy Rickshaw Stop along the way, to bring a little Twin Cities spirit to the City by the Bay.
The Rickshaw Stop is not always an ideal venue for some shows, as the space is small and fills up easily, and during some sold-out shows, it is just plain uncomfortable (and hot). The crowd for Night Moves’ show last week was just right, as it was not too large but still did a good job of filling the space, and everyone in attendance was reactive to and excited about the music that was being presented. The tiny stage did look a bit crowded with five guys up there, but they made do and kept things relaxed yet professional. The band exuded confidence and style: Pelant’s colorful silk cowboy shirt shimmered as it moved through the subtly shifting lights of set opener “Horses,” a soaring, vibrant song taken from their debut – one of only five songs played that were not featured on Pennied Days; the others including the title track from Colored Emotions (played under purple light in dedication to Prince), first single “Country Queen,” and a groovy, funky unreleased B-side called “Flashy Thighs” that I have been desperately combing the Internet for (to no avail, sigh).
The stars of the evening were the new songs from Pennied Days, ranging from softer, more pensive numbers (“Leave Your Light On,” “Only to Live in Your Memories,” “Alabama”) to the more energetic songs, like the epic, towering “Hiding in the Melody” and lead single “Carl Sagan,” which features haunting falsetto wheeling high above a tumbled arrangement of guitar, organs, and perfectly understated percussion. The album’s second single, “Denise, Don’t Wanna See You Cry” immediately followed “Carl Sagan” (as it does on the album), churning through gooey vocal harmonies and some spaced-out guitar sections. For an encore, the band whipped out “Staurolite Stroll,” another of Pennied Days’ more robust numbers, featuring even more vocal intermingling and an intro that tears into the song with 80s-inspired synths that immediately made me think (again) of Prince, who was very much there in spirit that night, though unfortunately no Prince covers were performed (alas).
Night Moves makes music that drips with feeling and talent, and the show at Rickshaw Stop last week was the perfect showcasing of the band’s ability as an outfit. The second album may have taken a lot longer than initially predicted, but the patience and diligence in the recording really shows, especially in Night Moves’ live performance. It might get chilly up in Minneapolis, but summer has returned, speaking to us through the balmy reverb of Night Moves.