Willy Moon at U Street Music Hall in Washington, D.C.

New Zealand born pop singer Willy Moon performs at the U Street Music Hall in D.C. Photo: Willy Moon

WASHINGTON, March, 14, 2013 — There’s no useful synonym for “diva” on the male side of the pop singer spectrum. We’re not talking about the off-stage appropriation of the word, but about the on-stage version, highlighting a performer.

It specifically been used to describe female singers, and it still dominates descriptions of those singers with either huge voices or electric onstage presences. Still there have been several male singers since the advent of pop music who fit that bill as well. This is the kind of singer Willy Moon appears to be.

This New Zealand born, London-based performer isn’t quite a pop star yet, but he has all the makings of one. After watching his set at the U Street Music Hall recently, it’s easy to understand the importance of style during a show because Willy Moon’s entire performance oozes with it. The energy that comes with each song seems completely orchestrated. That’s largely due to the meticulous appearance he exhibits on stage. His hair is perfectly slicked back and his all-black suit matches the atmosphere of the DC basement club perfectly.

Although it’s nowhere close to pitting style over substance argument, one’s initial reaction to Moon is an important part of the overall presentation of Willy Moon’s set. The way he attacks the stage does just as much to signify the comparisons to early rock ‘n’ roll singers that his sound suggests as much as the actual sound he puts out. Moon is attempting to embody the general nature of that musical aesthetic as much as he can, right down his constant movement and stylish threads. The contrast between Moon and U Street makes this all the better.

Of course, if Moon’s show were all style and little substance, it would make for a fairly shallow affair. Luckily for the crowd in attendance this wasn’t the case. Moon’s musical style has been summed up as 50s era rock meets modern hip-hop. But while there are some aspects of this in his live performance, that description doesn’t feel altogether accurate.

The 50s era rock influence is ultimately what makes the biggest impression, although it may not be recognized as such since Moon’s sound is updated and layered with beats. The pace and rhythm of his vocals would easily remind older fans of vintage rock of nearly any singer buried in an ancient record collection. Each of Moon’s songs has a natural simplicity to it, adhering to the verse/chorus/verse model fairly tightly. This scarcely seems inspirational, but all of it is very catchy and rather addictive. That’s particularly so when you note how each song gets its hooks into the audience but then quickly concludes before it overstays its welcome.

The hip-hop part of Moon’s stylistic equation derives from the way he modernizes his sound palette. It feels as if he overlays each of his songs with more of a Motown feel than anything else, a sensation that seems unique and new primarily because of the aggressive way Moon uses these different stylistic touches. There’s nothing remotely hip-hop about his presentation. It’s just the atmospherics that he pulls from the genre and infuses into his sound structurally but never overtly.

When Willy Moon puts all of these elements together, it all makes for an infectious live show. Even if his set here only lasted about a half hour, Moon packed so much tradition, invention and energy into each of songs that even after his set was done, the audience remained pleasantly but surprisingly exhausted.

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Stephen Bradley

Stephen Bradley is an avid music listener and an occasional writer.  He grew up in the Washington DC area and has been embedded in the local music scene for years.  Currently he lives in Vienna, VA.   He enjoys bands that have been broken up for at least a decade.

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