It takes a special kind of person to singlehandedly spark a thunderous clapping session in a dark room full of too cool twenty-somethings. But by the end of Matt Embree's acoustic set at Koos Art Center in Long Beach, any worries of judgment or anxiety had been sucked out of the front doors of the paint slathered gallery to freeze in the midnight air. Huddled together in the darkness, unity and power spread like a fever in the crowd.
Embree, lead singer/guitarist of the OC-based experimental ska band Rx Bandits debuted his acoustic side project, Love You Moon, for a hometown crowd of family, friends and fans on Saturday.
The night opened with a soulful acoustic set by Derrick Jennings in his solo act, The Ashtray Life. With downcast eyes and a soft apologetic tone in between songs, Jennings drew the crowd in. His half-hour performance segued into a vintage crate-digging DJ set by Embree’s younger brother David, who churned out a batch of classic jams by Nina Simone, Curtis Mayfield and other soul pioneers. Embree's folks and band mates were in the crowd, giving the night the feeling of a family affair.
Finally, it was big brother Embree’s turn.
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“All right, I need everyone to come closer,” said Embree as he motioned us toward the stage. He kicked things off with a brazen punk-tinged protest called “Screams in a Vacuum.” Though the spirit of rebellion was present in most of his songs, it was a whole different animal from his Rx Bandits bits.
The performance was little tainted by technical difficulties, but even through all the bullshit, Embree came through like a champ, singing at the top of his lungs with anguish and his usual soulful delivery.
Halfway through the set, Embree was joined on stage by singer and mandolin player Lauren Collins, a good friend and collaborator in yet another musical off shoot called Peba Luna. Together they had the audience swaying contently to their song “Late May's Gaze.”
One of the loudest highlights came during the last song of the set, when Embree and Collins set off a clapping rhythm that weaved slowly through the hands of everyone in the crowd. It was one of those times when no matter who you were standing next to, they didn’t feel like a stranger. Whatever Embree was looking for in terms of a response to his pet project, hopefully what the audience gave him was enough to keep it up.