Oakland-based MoeTar’s Sunday performance at the new LES venue Spectrum perfectly illustrated the highs and lows of the current DIY scene. Pros: Soaring, beautiful songs, which felt intimate and vital. Cons: An hour-late start and a small, increasingly restless audience. It seemed like every time something great happened, something weird occurred almost immediately afterwards, giving the whole evening a discombobulated, start-stop feel.
Spectrum’s owner, Glenn Cornett, effusively introduced the band, explaining that he had organized the entire weekend-long NYX Festival of Experimental and Prog Music around them. Even with the late start, MoeTar didn’t seem to be in any rush to get things off the ground as they eased into their first number, “Butchers of Baghdad” from their most recent EP, From These Small Seeds. While the instrumentalists were certainly accomplished, vocalist Moorea Dickason was the real star: Walking the line between operatic highs and sultry torch-singer lows, her soaring, transcendent voice filled the small space and gave me goose bumps.
MoeTar’s sound isn't easy to define, even though I had plenty of time to think about it while the band chatted and tuned during five-minute intervals between songs. Referencing everything from the Beatles to classic Vaudeville numbers, MoeTar shifted seamlessly between hard-edged prog rock and jazz without missing a beat. While impressive, it wasn't enough to keep the audience happy.
“Just play already,” a surly man yelled, voicing the crowd's sentiments. Between the drummer’s seat breaking and children running across the bandstand during the performance, I strained to catch the lyrics, which became increasingly indecipherable as the set trudged on.
After the show, I checked the band’s website to find out what I was supposed to have heard. It was a pity the sound wasn’t clearer. Bassist and songwriter Tarik Ragab's smart, poetic lyrics deserve to be heard, and the band's music is worthy of performances unmarred by disgruntled audience members and tuning problems.