Moon Taxi rides on at Belly Up Aspen
If You Go …
What: Moon Taxi
Where: Belly Up Aspen
When: Wednesday, March 16, 9 p.m.
How much: $15
Tickets: Belly Up Aspen box office; www.bellyupaspen.com
Moon Taxi has earned a reputation as one of the great rising live bands in the country, steadily building buzz with each stop on the big-ticket summer festival circuit.
But the band, based in Nashville, Tennessee, which plays Belly Up Aspen today, honed its live show by playing long and late in smoky bars around the American South.
The five-piece band formed in 2006 while its members were students at Belmont University and found their following in Birmingham, Alabama, and in college towns like Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and Knoxville, Tennessee, before they got any attention in Nashville. The gigs weren’t glamorous, but they shaped Moon Taxi into a live powerhouse.
At Marty’s in Birmingham they’d play shows that started at midnight and went until 5 a.m. At The Boot in Tuscaloosa, they’d go on at 11 and play until 4.
“We just packed the place out and played for five hours,” bassist Tommy Putnam said. “Just crazy stuff. I couldn’t imagine playing that long now, but we did and learned how to become a live band. And we’d come back to Nashville and play a show and people were like, ‘Holy s—, these guys are great!’”
It’s easy to get lost in the crowd of talent in Music City, USA. Putnam credited that high threshold for motivating the band to hone a live set that would leave an impression.
“When we were becoming a band in Nashville we knew there was a lot of talent there, and there are so many good bands, good singers and good guitar players that, if you want to rise to the top, you have to put on a live show right off the bat,” he said. “So we kept working at it. And I think Nashville made us become one of the best live bands out there.”
They’ve stayed true to their bar-band roots by touring aggressively with hundreds of shows a year, including festivals like Coachella, Hangout and Bonnaroo (and a 2014 performance at Jazz Aspen’s Labor Day Experience) and opening slots on tour with Umphrey’s McGee and Matisyahu.
Now touring in support of their third studio album, “Daybreaker,” Moon Taxi has settled into a cross-breed approach to rock — the new album’s songs swerve easily between southern rock and folk to prog anthems to Vampire Weekend-styled pop, with electronic touches and nods to the jam band set (their live shows typically include a Grateful Dead cover). The album was made, not surprisingly, with Kings of Leon producer Jacquire King.
The diversity of the sounds on “Daybreaker” might result from the band’s collective songwriting approach. Each member writes songs, and one will typically take the lead on it as others pitch in ideas.
“It’s like a kitchen where there’s one chef and a couple sous chefs helping out,” Putnam said.
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