Shelle and I walk through the office to the warehouse in back. Paul McDaniel, wearing a green Hawaiian shirt, greets us with, “We’re listening to surf music because it’s summer.”
Steve Mossholder steps out from behind the stairs that make up the nominal fourth wall of their practice space, scrubbing a y-shaped piece of metal, “It’s been about five years since we changed heads on the mutt kit,” he explains, then nodding to the speakers that sit on chain-suspended platforms above his head, “That’s Mike Campbell and Friends– Tom Petty’s guitar player.”
Paul says, “Part of this drum set used to belong to The String Cheese Incident, god knows what kind of hell they put it through.”
“I took it apart and it was falling apart,” says Steve, then cocking his head to the side, he adds, “I’d stopped getting nervous at shows, but lately, each gig we take seems like the most important one we’ve ever done. The edge is back.”
Summer obsessions. Not the boil-a-bunny-in-some-married-guy’s-house kind, but rather the kind where you can’t learn enough about something and every drop of knowledge mingles with the enduring truths that your mental hyphe sucked out of decayed ideas, until your mind erupts with epiphany’s rich fruit (mushrooms: Summer Obsession 2008, sparked by Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma). High Jinks Below Stares alludes to another obsession, perhaps the obsession because my serious writing began after reading Joyce’s Ulysses, and coincided with my introduction to Celtic Rock (Flogging Molly’s “Devil’s Dance Floor” on HBO’s Weeds) which led me to Celtic Punk—oh, those sweet Tossers– and then to all of the amped-up Celtic music I could find.
Which is why, last June, we were sitting in folding metal chairs on an already hot Saturday morning when Angus Mohr took the Brighton Cultural Fair stage. By the time they left it, we were CD buying fans.
Matt and Byrd arrive, unpack, and tune. Chelle, camera in hand, hunts images and angles while Paul squeezes the tips of earplugs attached to wires leading into a box a little bigger (and a lot heavier) than a pack of cigarettes. “We no longer use a live sound system when we’re rehearsing. Instead, Gusty, our audio engineer, set up the same wireless in-ear system that we use at shows. Everyone can control his own volume and mix. Being able to hear ourselves made us sharper. It was one of those oh-my-god moments.” Paul smiles and tucks the earphone into his ear.
A few weeks later, night coming on, Jameson lingering at the back of my palate, we watched them perform at the Colorado Irish festival. Then, two or three times at Scruffy Murphy’s downtown, twice at Herman’s Hideaway and suddenly I understood why all those hippies followed the Grateful Dead.
Because even though Gusty (who’s also chief engineer at the Mohr Fire Studio) MixDreamed Pro Tools digital recordings to achieve the analog resonance that makes songs like “The Fields of Athenry” stirring and poignant on CD, those same songs– when played live– gather a thread of your soul, weaving it together with everyone else’s and uniting–for a scant five minutes at a time– strangers in a tapestry of sound. This isn’t, as Stephen King would say , “mythy-mountain shit”. It’s Jung’s collective unconscious without the un, and you don’t need to know its language to participate. In front of Angus Mohr’s stage, people throw off the bland yoke of restraint to leap, two-step, and sway. The band performs, and we partake in a ritual as old as human culture.
You get addicted to that feeling, that freedom.
That’s why, after spraining my ankle walking down a rain wet hallway at work, I cursed my clumsy Velcro laced boot at the Rialto Theater while everyone else danced. But, nothing feeds epiphany like frustration, and the best thing about writing is the license to professional curiosity. Sitting there, watching rather than partaking, I realized that there was a lot to wonder about Angus Mohr.
So, I emailed the band, careful to include writing samples lest my interest make them feel the need to check the health of their bunny rabbits and other small house pets.
Paul hands me a monitor. I do my best to squish up the tip.
“It helps if you pull up like this.” Paul tugs on the top of his ear, “Give it a minute and you’ll feel it expand.”
After a couple of adjustments, I take a seat on the unfinished wood stairs. Through the monitor I hear a low hum, then a restless guitar, followed by the bagpipes that, like a signal, wake up the hungry drums and Paul, bass slung low, steps up to the mic.