You know a band has made it not when it garners wild cheers during its choruses, but when the crowd goes silent for the quieter interludes. Moon Taxi, one senses, is a band on the cusp of commandeering that kind of rapt attention from its audience — but it hasn’t quite gotten there yet.
Part of that lack of engagement — the rowdy audience talked over many of the softer sections of songs — might be the odd slice of life that the band has eked out as its primary audience. Moon Taxi’s performance at the Fillmore on Saturday was technically an all-ages show, but 21 was definitively on the low end of the age range — a puzzling scenario for a band that built its following on the strength of festival sets at the likes of Firefly and Coachella.
There’s another part, too. Despite the fact the Moon Taxi has a surprisingly deep catalog of sonically pleasing, feel-good pop-inspired indie-rock songs, these tracks simply don’t translate into the type of loud, energetic shakers needed to get people’s feet into the air. Frontman Trevor Terndrup tried his best — several of his strobe-light replete guitar solos were a sight to behold — but those built-up solos always seemed to drop back into choruses that were slightly pedestrian in comparison. There was definitely a contingent of rapt fans in a bundle near the front at stage right, but most fans were content with the occasional dancing, focusing more energy on talking or managing their often double-fisted drinks.
The band itself didn’t seem to mind, although one or two awkward moments found Terndrup stepping off mic and pointing out at the crowd to fill in the lyrics that they didn’t seem to know. As the harder-hitting opening number “Mercury” slipped into more alternative, boppy tracks, it became clear that Terndrup would be the only kinetic aspect of the set, with the other band members all trapped behind keyboards, sometimes on double duty with a guitar or bass. That might partially be the fault of the Fillmore’s smaller stage, which left the band feeling a little crowded.
Fan-favorite “Morocco,” one of the few songs people sang along to, was placed perhaps prematurely in the middle of the set — but the energy its recognition generated in the room was a welcome glimpse into how the band’s whole set might feel once it has garnered a following that is familiar with all of its music.
Given that lack of familiarity, it wasn’t hugely surprising when the band whipped out a cover of John Lennon’s “Imagine” to pull the crowd back in late in the show, before transitioning into the slow-burn “River Water.” But when the very next track was a complete cover of “Hotel California,” questions began to emerge to the band’s readiness for headlining sets.
As the set wound down, a hybrid “encore” break found drummer Tyler Ritter with a strobe-filled solo while the other band members briefly left the stage, before returning for a performance of the band’s most-streamed hit “Two High.”
“Two High” was easily the highlight of a show defined by its serendipitous moments. The band brought out Leo Pellegrino (baritone saxophone) and Matt Doe (trumpet) of opener Too Many Zooz to contribute to the Latin-infused brass chorus of the song.
And despite the fact that with seven people on stage, it was quite literally impossible for them to move, seeing Terndrup and Pellegrino leaning back, guitar and saxophone held aloft in complementary solos was one of those transcendent moments that force you to cheer and jump with a goofy grin on your face.
It would’ve been the perfect song to end with, but alas, the band had a few more tracks up its sleeve — another odd decision, since nothing could possibly match the conclusiveness of “Two High.” As people flooded toward the bar, presumably thinking the regular set over, the band pushed through a performance of “Red Hot Lights” before leaving the stage.
Some fans were already out the door before the band returned for a true one-song encore (after a rendition of “Happy Birthday” for Terndrup, prompted by keyboardist Wes Bailey) of “All Day All Night.” It was two songs of declining energy from that of “Two High,” but nonetheless representative of the fact that a majority of the band’s songs are, even to a casual listener, enjoyable.
Moon Taxi leaves you with the impression that it is on a cusp, and with just that many more engaged fans and just that much more kinetic of a stage show (or perhaps a larger stage), it will be set to become an alternative indie-rock mainstay.