So, where were we?
One week after returning home from my Ann Arbor Jandek experience, I drove nearly the same distance in another direction to see The Moon Seven Times in Champaign, Illinois. Jandek was a purely left-brain experience – I am oddly fascinated by this strange, talentless man and his single-minded commitment to a singular sound. The Moon Seven Times was completely different. They’re on a short list of bands that mean the world to me, and seeing them was an emotional high I’m not going to be able to adequately describe.
To talk about that, I have to talk about Chris L’Etoile. I’ve known Chris since eighth grade – he was a full-fledged member of the Losers Club, the self-deprecating name my friends and I had for our little group. We were the odd kids, the ones that always gravitate towards each other when all other options are exhausted. I love these guys like brothers, and being more than a thousand miles away from all of them is often difficult.
Now, throughout my life, many people have accused me of being ahead of the curve when it comes to music. I have a decent sense of history and I can hold my own, but when it came to discovering bands no one on the planet had ever heard of, Chris L’Etoile was the man. In high school, he had shit I’ve still never heard of. And he’d make me listen to it, and of course, being the teenage metalhead I was, I just didn’t get most of it.
In the late ‘80s, everyone with taste was into the Cure and the Smiths, and Chris had that stuff. But he was also into bands like An Emotional Fish and the Curtain Society. He played me Treat Her Right’s first album long before anyone had heard of Mark Sandman or Morphine. He turned me on to Sloan back when “Underwhelmed” was their best song. He got me to buy Peter Murphy’s Deep, which led me to all the old Bauhaus material. He was so far ahead of me it wasn’t funny.
And in 1993, he introduced me to The Moon Seven Times.
The first M7x album was released on Third Mind Records that year, with an indistinct and abstract cover, and no pictures of the band members. We had nothing to go on except the sound, and it was astonishingly beautiful. Imagine this – you’ve got the bass and drums of a rock band, but the guitars sound like clouds, and this gorgeous female voice floats above them like a disembodied ghost. It was grounded as almost-pop music, but untethered, vaporous, spectral and ethereal. I’d never heard anything quite like it.
Ambient music fans may now recognize the name Henry Frayne, especially from his well-respected Lanterna project. But in the early ‘90s, I only knew Frayne as the guitar genius in The Moon Seven Times. His unearthly tones and beautiful seascapes of sound were a big part of what I loved about M7x. Lynn Canfield’s lovely voice was another big part.
Two more albums followed. The band’s masterpiece is their second record, 7=49. (Say the band’s name, then the album title.) This is the one that deftly balances their earthbound and heavenly sides – many of the songs are acoustic, and while some have that misty, reverbed sound, some are more grounded. It was a perfect mix. Sunburnt, their final effort, tossed that balance aside and turned the band into the Cowboy Junkies. But it was still a pretty decent album.
And then, in 1997, they broke up. I had no idea at the time, of course – I had barely heard of the Internet, and didn’t know where to get news about my favorite bands. And as far as I knew, The Moon Seven Times had only two fans on the planet – me, and Chris L’Etoile.
Fast forward 10 years. I’m in Illinois, about three hours from Champaign, working for a newspaper. Chris is in Edmonton, Alberta, in Canada, working for one of the world’s premier video game companies. He writes the words the characters say – you may have heard of his company’s latest game, Mass Effect. Anyway, Chris writes me out of the blue with a link to the Moon Seven Times blog, and I read the good news – the band is getting together again for a reunion show. In Champaign.
You can see where this is going. Memorial Day weekend, Chris hopped a plane from Canada and flew to Chicago (at significant expense), and the two of us drove three hours to see one of our favorite bands play their first show in 10 years, and quite possibly their last show. Adventure!
The gig took place at a club called the Highdive, which is much nicer inside than its name would lead you to believe. For a while, it felt like crashing someone else’s college reunion – the bill included six bands popular in the early ‘90s, and while the bands reunited, so did their fans. I think Chris and I were the only people in the place not from Champaign.
The first band to the stage was Driver Has No Cash. They consisted of a drummer, a hulking singer, and (stay with me here) an electric ukelele player. And they were amazing. They closed their set with covers of “Hot Blooded,” “Juke Box Heroes” and “We’re an American Band,” and I couldn’t stop laughing, in a good way. They were awesomely ridiculous, and I’d love to go see them again.
Corndolly were decent, but reminded me of a Breeders tribute act. And then there was Dick Justice. Named after an associate dean at the University of Illinois, who introduced the band on stage, Dick Justice was an absolute scream. They started their set by eating fruit suggestively, then launched into one tight, fast, silly, stupid punk song after another. The drummer, especially, was a joy to watch – I thought he was going to die between each song, as he gasped for breath. (At one point, he even asked for a minute before counting in the next number.) They were a full-body-workout kind of band, and they were so much fun.
And then, they appeared. I’d seen pictures of The Moon Seven Times, in the liner notes to Sunburnt, but wouldn’t be able to pick them out of a lineup. But Chris recognized Canfield and Frayne right away, as they lugged equipment up on stage and started to plug it in. I think it was about then that I realized this was really happening. We were about to see The Moon Seven Times live.
I don’t know if I can articulate this, but I greeted the prospect with a mixed sense of fear and excitement. I’d been listening to The Moon Seven Times for 14 years, without ever seeing them play. As hard as this may be to grasp, I wasn’t sure I wanted to contextualize them – their music is so otherworldly, so inexplicably beautiful, that I couldn’t imagine how I’d feel watching living, breathing people create it. And it was odd. Canfield opened her mouth, and that voice came out. Frayne plucked his strings, and that sound wafted out over the room. Don Gerard played that bassline for “Miranda,” and Brendan Gamble made those drum sounds for “My Game.”
I think it took until “Crybaby,” my favorite M7x song, to really come to terms with it. These are the people who wrote and crafted this music I’ve loved since I was 19. I found myself envying those in the room who got to watch the evolution of this band, and know them as people. It was like taking blinders off and really experiencing something for the first time.
Observations I made when not in blissful euphoria for the next 50 minutes:
Lynn Canfield is adorable. Before the show began, she lugged this massive foot locker onto the stage, knocking aside monitors to set it at her feet. You know what it was filled with? Moon pies. Seriously. She passed them around to the crowd, remarking that they go well with beer. Because her voice is so ethereal, I’ve always pictured someone more ghostly, but Canfield was full of life. Sparkling, even.
Henry Frayne is exactly like I pictured him. He didn’t move, the whole show. He stood there, looking down and strumming his guitar, almost like a studious professor conducting an experiment. I was worried that the sound system in the room wouldn’t be able to handle Frayne’s sonic arsenal, but it did just fine. And Frayne surprised the hell out of me by ripping through a snarling guitar solo on closing song “Through the Roses.” (Trivia – on Sunburnt, that solo was played by Jay Bennett, who went on to form Wilco with Jeff Tweedy.)
Every song was terrific. The band played like they were still a going concern, like I could drive to the Highdive next weekend and see them again. And I wish I could. After the show, we got to meet all four members, and they were unfailingly nice, even when I forgot to introduce myself. And Chris got his CD cover signed – I’ve never seen him so giddy.
So, I can cross “see The Moon Seven Times live” off the list of things I want to do before I die. Thanks to Chris for accompanying me on this adventure, and endless thanks to the band for reuniting just for this one special night.
If you’ve never heard The Moon Seven Times, I would recommend starting with 7=49, if only because you need to hear “Crybaby,” and it’s on that one. Their albums are hard to find now, but they’re worth every second it takes to track them down.
I’m writing this on my 34th birthday. Thanks to everyone who wrote and called with birthday wishes. You’re all very important to me. I hope I get at least 34 more years. I’d be happy with that.
Next week, Aimee Mann, Weezer and Sloan.
See you in line Tuesday morning.