On Saturday night, Blue Moon Revue delivered a set of rock and roll so taut, charismatic and joyous that it deserves to solidify them as one of the finest live acts in Indianapolis.
Pulling heavily from Make It Reel, the band's impressive, most recent album (released September 23, 2013), Blue Moon Revue tapped into intangible highs that mysteriously fill the air when a true band plays well-crafted songs with passionate conviction. The passion is at the core of many aspiring bands around town, but what differentiates BMR from most other acts is the shared history of Andy Salge, David Sullivan, Matt Marshall, and John Gray as a musical family nearly 15 years old.
Their tight bond seems to yield an almost ESP-like language and precision that can't be faked. There is no shortcut for young bands chasing that stature. Credentials are earned through relentless emphasis on writing, learning to fight without leaving scars, practicing, playing to nearly nobody, touring, practicing more, writing new material and sharing your art with a genuine mix of vulnerability and hard-won confidence. Watching Blue Moon Revue play live, their credentials sing out with every note, and the satisfaction the guys feel playing alongside each other is painted across their faces.
Settling onto the stage with the customary lead-in jam of The Marcels' "Blue Moon" to set the mood, BMR ripped right into a string of Make It Reel zingers that alternated vocal leads between dual songwriter/vocalists Salge and Marshall. Salge lit the fuse with the title track (a tune that's one of my favorite songs of 2014, belatedly praised only because Make It Reel didn't appear on my radar until early January), a savory slice of timeless FM-radio power-pop that would sound perfect squeezed between Big Star, Thin Lizzy and Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers on any rock lover's playlist. The title is a play on words depicting the band's admirable decision to record to tape (a rare feat these days that underscores the foursome's caliber of musicianship) while also doubling as a rousing chorus of heart-on-fire romanticism with the plea to "make it real tonight" in pursuit of love (at least for a night) and meaning in life. Like many of Blue Moon Revue's strongest songs on Make It Reel, this is far from virgin ground in rock and roll music, but it can be fertile soil when done well and the harvest may be bountiful in any season for the right type of listener who holds steady to some things that never go out of style.
On bass and carrying half the vocal leads on stage right, Salge embodied the sweaty, rock and roll spirit of a young Paul McCartney trimmed of his more egregious whimsies (think "Why Don't We Do It In The Road?"/"Helter Skelter" Macca rather than "Rocky Raccoon" Macca) and infused with a Ramones-loving heart.
Marshall, BMR's lead-vocal yang to Salge's ying, grounded stage left on rhythm guitar and dazzled on soulful Make It Reel cuts "Fired Up," "Do What We Like," "Throwin' All Your Money Away," and album closer "Mad World," a gem that finds BMR letting loose of all inhibitions to get experimental, funky and populist in a feedback-fueled manner that has shades of Innervisions-era Stevie Wonder and Sly and the Family Stone. As a songwriter and engaging stage presence, Marshall projects a confident air that could rival Ben Harper. It's a perfect contrast to Salge's pogo-punk bounce and Boss-like aura across the stage.
All the nods to rock icons (not to mention Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees) may stink of hyperbole for a mostly under-the-radar Indy band playing small clubs, but BMR puts the evidence out there for anyone to see in a live setting. Centered between Salge and Marshall, Sullivan's focused, crisp leads on guitar and pedal-steel paints around the melodies and verses, all the while Gray barks out counts from behind the drums and keeps the BMR machine on the rails. All four share backing vocals, Sullivan bouncing between Salge and Marshall's microphones to harmonize cheek to cheek. It's a tried-and-true gimmick that greats like The Beatles and The E Street Band perfected over the years, and BMR understand that kind of chemistry never loses its luster. It breeds an authentic intimacy that can transfer from performer to audience, and such signatures are crucial reasons Blue Moon Revue are winners in a live setting.
Homeless Cop (Jason Fennell), the visionary, Chicago-based artist who now resides in Indianapolis and is best known for his work with Adult Swim, is a friend of the band (and a former bandmate of Salge) and contributed the original album art for Make It Reel. A newly printed 16' x 16' banner of the album art served as the stage backdrop. BMR and Homeless Cop share a mutual admiration and champion each other's work. Homeless Cop created an exclusive gig poster for Saturday's show and designs the artwork for the majority of the band's merchandise. In return, Salge praised Homeless Cop's art throughout the night, noted his high-profile fans (Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim, as well as other Adult Swim alum) and invited all in attendance to introduce themselves to Fennell, seek out his artwork or hire him for a custom painting.
Fennell hit the BMR nail on the head in conversation. "There are few bands that play as tightly as those guys. They've been together for so long, and they still practice like four times a week."
On songs like the Make It Reel barnburner "Call It a Day" or the night's closing dose of unapologetic, sing-along optimism, "Best of Luck," the four equals of Blue Moon Revue were lock-step with each other and unmistakably in love with playing music as a band. After all their years writing, practicing and playing onstage, Blue Moon Revue's marriage of top-notch songwriting, easy charm and onstage zeal amounts to a crowning hour of Indianapolis-bred music for rock and roll fans.
New Indianapolis outfit Toro opened the evening with their hometown debut. The foursome delivered an impressive enough set for its first outing, cranking out tightly wound garage crunch heavy on electric solos and inspired tempo switches. Heavy on fiery musicianship but with songs that often strike as serviceable on first listen (especially with vocals low in the mix), Toro may become a band to watch once they find ways to make verses and choruses as memorable as their playing. Indy-based rockers Tied to Tigers rounded out the evening's bill.