The music of Bob Moses could accompany a scene in an artsy sci-fi film where crash-landing astronauts aren’t yet sure if the planet where they’ve crash-landed is inhabited or not. The nominal Vancouverites have created a moody, deep-house-inflected electronic music whose basslines percolate with dark energy.
After releasing Battles Lines last September — their second full-length album after a string of EPs — Tom Howie and Jimmy Vallance have continued their nomadic existence, living and working in New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Sweden and absorbing musical influences from each.
It’s a “byproduct of the times,” Howie tells SF Weekly.
“There’s a feel to being different places, and that does affect the creative fumes,” he says. “Because we have this hybrid thing, a never-ending cycle or a self-fulfilling prophecy, we have a sort of unique and multifaceted sound and creative output and that fuels our ability to be in different places — and through playing all those different places, we soak up what those places have to offer and the different culture feeds its way back into our music.”
The result is a band that has grown further into itself, as well as growing in size (they’ve added a bass player, for instance). After their Sunday afternoon performance at Outside Lands, Bob Moses plays a club set at Mezzanine in SoMa, which means San Francisco gets to hear markedly different versions of songs like “Back Down” twice in one day.
“The club set is Jimmy and I and it’s all mixed together,” Howie says. “It’s got live guitar and vocals, but we play a lot of the remixes, things that would work better in a club. The band show is more dynamic and it has a bit more starts and stops.
“Both sets take people on a journey,” he adds, “but the band show has improvised transitions that we’ve built, which adds more musicianship to it. We play a few slower songs in the band show, with higher peaks and lower valleys.”
As the lyric on “Back Down” has it, “Your reality is our insanity.” Howie notes that “there’s more misconceptions about our working relationship than there are facts,” but he and Vallance have a deepening, complementary bond. The division of labor, he says with something of a Yogi Berra twist, has remained “100 percent fifty-fifty.” As seen on songs like “Tearing Me Up” or the slightly sinister “Far from the Tree,” there’s an alchemy at work, and Howie has described Bob Moses in the past as a mythical creature. Pressed for exactly what, he names the Loch Ness Monster — his father is Scottish — but admits that the first time this subject came up he and Vallance might have been joking or high.
The band’s peripatetic existence and enigmatic name bear all this out, too. Casual fans sometimes approach either Howie or Vallance, assume that he and he alone “is” Bob Moses and the other one is some sidekick. But, of course, neither of them is. The moniker owes itself to their label’s practice of bestowing the names of New York icons on its acts, and Robert Moses was New York’s mid-20th-century master builder, a singular case study of the principle that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. (Robert Caro, the octogenarian biographer of Lyndon Johnson and Conan O’Brien’s longtime white whale, wrote the definitive takedown of Moses’ edifice complex, The Power Broker.)
Has he ever read it?
“I haven’t finished it,” Howie admits. “I’ve started it. I’ve had a couple copies at some point. I think my grandfather gave me a copy when I lived in New York — and I think it’s still at Jimmy’s place.”
Bob Moses, Sunday, Aug. 11, 4:55-5:40 p.m. , Sutro Stage.