The rest of the building may be still under construction to make another restaurant but right At The Top everything is fine and dandy – it’s Long Beach’s latest music venue / bar and it still has that fresh “new venue” smell. Clean too. This gig by the seven piece Moonsville Collective acted as both a new EP launch party and also as a curtain raiser for the Long Beach Folk Revival Festival set to take place the next day in nearby Rainbow Lagoon Park. Things got going though with an opening set from Frank Fairfield and Tom Marion. Frank Fairfield is a multi-instrumentalist, tonight playing guitar, mandolin, fiddle and 5-string banjo, whilst Tom Marion majored on mandolin but also added some guitar when Frank was otherwise engaged. There’s is the music of early 20th century America – as the jazz age and the popular musical stylings brought over from the old world blended into a new merged style. It’s old timey but not in an Appalachian way, rather it has a real Radio Days feel to it. The duo played basically what they wanted for about an hour, Fairfield occasionally pondering aloud if anyone really wanted to hear this stuff. Well, he may have not had the whole crowd’s attention – but yes, those who were listening did want to hear. It’s not every day that you get such a pair of talented musicians playing the music they clearly love with the precision of joy, that is – if there was a mistake they went back and tried it over until they’d corrected it. We were going to hear telephone waltz done properly, and Fairfield was going to sing all of Rye Whisky in a voice that seemed to have been lifted from a scratched 78RPM shellac – scratches and jumps included. Frank Fairfield, you may recall, was the opening act for Fleet Foxes back in 2010, and things seemed to be going really well up until the point he dramatically quit the music biz in 2015 in an infamous Facebook post (is there any other way these days ?). Well, clearly he’s back playing some, and he’s a joy to listen to – his pickless three-finger technique on the banjo – definitely not Scruggs style – was a revelation, for five minutes it was like being back in the 1920s. Superb in all.
Second support came from Nashville’s Hogslop String Band – a four piece of banjo, guitar, fiddle and washtub bass. Perhaps it was the interminable sound-check – it was a good half an hour if it was a minute – but it took a while to regain the evening’s momentum even with their high energy take on mostly traditional square dance tunes such as Reuben’s Train. Unashamedly dedicated to a good time – and with the intention of getting as many dancing as possible – they were certainly a tight band. Ironically their best tune of the evening was a string band conversion of Roll Over Beethoven – but it worked excellently and brought out the band’s best features. Their late start did have a knock-on impact on the main band’s start time, although Moonsville Collective did demonstrate how to take the stage: plug in, tap all the mikes a couple of times and just launch into a song. Really there’s not much that can go wrong with a seven piece band, particularly when there’s a fast picking mandolin player at one end of the stage and an experienced lead and steel guitar player in the form of Dan Richardson at the other. Together they added the light touches lifting Moonsville Collective’s solid folk-Americana sound.
Naturally enough there were a number of songs from their new EP Moonsville II, such as Hundred In The Sun, capturing the return to the warmth of Los Angeles after a jaunt to Europe “A hundred in the sun ninety-nine in the shade / London was cold but the women were nice / Paris was fun especially at night”, and the good feeling of Hurricane Girl, a joyful song simply made for dancing – and there was plenty of dancing! Amongst all the new songs there was still room for old favourites such as Blue Money Grove, which showed off the bands folkiest side to good advantage. It’s a song with a darker edge to it, dredging up ghosts of violent frontiersmen in a snarling threat “Yes I am a kind man / I believe in the holy book / But if you touch my woman / I ain’t much more than a crook”. Over an hour or so Moonsville Collective blended their range of styles, from roots-rockers to more folky feeling songs, to produce a truly pure Americana jam band sound as the group’s members picked up a tune and ran with it before passing it onto another. In all it was an excellent gig and in its variety a perfect scene setter for the festival to come, and also as fine a way to spend $15 as you’re likely to find in Long Beach.