Words by: Sam Farringdon
The Rosemount is an intimidatingly cavernous room to walk into when it’s near empty. It’s like a some purgatorial abyss, waiting to unleash heaven or hell unto true believers, skeptics and the morbidly curious alike. Before I steeled myself to make the long and winding walk to a table in the corner-most spot in the room (trying to keep the lowest profile possible), I encountered Joni Hogan in the foyer, buzzing with what I imagined was a slight case of pre-show nerves. She greeted me with the warmth and affability of an old friend, which was touching as I was only a stranger to her then, before disappearing to locate a misplaced friend. “I really wish there were more people here”, she said gesturing toward the stage, “these guys are so beautiful”.
Joni was referring to Racoo Charles with The Moke Folk, a rag tag bunch of bluegrass ragamuffins. Comprising banjo, mandolin, slide and acoustic guitars with warm rustic harmonies, the Moke Folk were stylistically a stark contrast to the other bands on the bill, but they shared a directness of soul in a manner not dissimilar to Joni herself. Their set was an exhibition of magic occurring among musicians playing for themselves, and their charming familial vibe seemed to set up the evening perfectly…
…until we were led down a darker garden path to the universes constructed by Amber Fresh’s Rabbit Island. And they are universes too – each song revolves so breathtakingly around tone, mood and feeling; their musical architecture so emotionally dense; yet their tools of construction (keyboard, guitar and voice) so basic and unassuming. People came and sat on the floor at the foot of the stage, hanging on every word and every note. Fresh’s gentle and delicate voice breathed tones of resigned calm into the troubled atmospheric soundscapes that evoked such powerful images, even without paying attention to the words, of everything from cathedral bells, to deserted houses, to the gates of heaven. At least, they did in my mind. It strikes me that one doesn’t experience Rabbit Island passively, and their set was as emotionally consuming as the best I’ve witnessed.
In contrast, a heavily pregnant Felicity Groom delivered a sultrily rhythmic respite. There was no sitting this time, as the Groom Voodoo seduced the hips of all present, it’s primal urgency emphasised by a particularly drum-heavy mix. Felicity commandeered the tribal force of her band’s white hot grooves, her voice floating above the ominous textures like incense smoke slowly curling into the ether. She felt part mother earth, part oracle as she delivered her messages, warnings, pleas with a subtle, but well grounded force. As more and more people moved to fill the empty spaces on the floor, the room started to feel less like purgatory, and more like a celebration, and Felicity Groom’s set proved to be a tasty entree to the main course.
However, I still don’t think I could’ve been adequately prepared for just how astounded by Joni In The Moon I was. I often stood, mouth agape, transfixed not only by the power and beauty of THAT voice but often simply by Joni Hogan’s innate ability to turn raw emotion into something altogether magical and profound. It’s as if as soon as she steps on stage she turns into a butterfly, her voice a rapture filling the room whilst reaching to the furtherest corners of your soul. Tonight, dressed in a peculiar flowing robe that reminded me of a sweet Pierrot Clown (which only furthered my love for her), she held the entire room in the palm of her hand – whether she was vamping on new song ‘Tarantella’ (whose cool little animated video was premiered earlier in the evening), challenging with ‘War and Porn’, searing with ‘Woman on Fire’, or heartbreaking with ‘Out of the Water’. Make no mistake, the voice may be thrilling and epoch making, but it wouldn’t be worth more than a reality TV show if it weren’t for the stark poignancy of the lyrics. It’s the all too relatable human vulnerability of these songs that provide the barbs to hook so steadfastly inside your heart and soul. It was obvious from looking around at the audience, that these songs were as much about them as they were about the woman presenting them.
And while Joni may be the focal point, to not mention her all-star band would be doing them a serious disservice. Co-founder and co-conspirator Josh Hogan had his head down most of the night, manipulating, amplifying and exemplifying the atmospherics so central to the ethereal nature of The Moon, whilst Tara John’s delicate keys, Steve Richter’s precision beat-keeping, and Ofa Fotu’s subtle vocal backing all nobly served to launch each song gloriously into orbit. There’s no weak links in this band – all of them are accomplished musicians in their own right – but to witness them together live is to become lost in their muse as much as you become lost in Joni herself.
I walked away a little awe-struck; and quite overwhelmed. There’s a feeling I get sometimes when music moves me so profoundly that I need a little time just to sit with it, let it seep into my pores a little, whilst I come to terms with how it’s effected me. I drove away from the Rosemount in silence, to the beach where I sat and listened in the darkness to the waves crash upon the shore. The Moon was full and bright. And somewhere between the breaking waves I could still hear an echo, an affirmation… “Would you believe it, I survived… Never felt more alive in my life…” And in that moment still, I was lost to The Moon as I filtered the corners of my own pain, confusion and desire through her kaleidoscopic lens. It was profound, it was beautiful, and it was not something I’ll be forgetting in a hurry.