Last Friday, the Earth House living room was abuzz with an intimate excitement, packed with audience members still wearing their Halloween costumes from the previous night. The headlining band of the night was the up-and-coming New York group Pluto Moons, but the band was ultimately part of a long night that delivered a broad range of rap, rock, punk, and all things in-between.
Almost as soon as the sound system had been set up, the first partygoers started streaming in, dressed in an impressive array of colorful costumes. Almost immediately, they were treated to the hip-hop set by Wesleyan’s own Arian Dehnow ’16 and Ari Ebstein ’16. The duo delivered a nice set of energetic, sample-rich beats. They were followed by another Wesleyan student band, South Station, which consists of Rachel Augusta Fox ’16, Leo Grossman ’16, Anna Schwab ’16, Jack Singer ’15, and Delaine Winn ’16. The group played blues-rock covers of songs such as “Whipping Post” by the Allman Brothers Band and “Take Me to the River” by the Talking Heads.
As the Pluto Moons set started to wrap up, I was lucky enough to run into Pluto Moons’ bassist and lead vocalist Zachary Levine-Caleb, who was kind enough to gather up his fellow band members Max Alper, drummer Sam Gautier, and saxophone player Ben Katz for a short interview on the Earth House porch.
“I got hit up by Ari, who I went to high school with,” Levine-Caleb said of how the band came to play at Wes. “He hit me up and asked us to play; we said, ‘Yes.’”
The punk-rock group was originally conceived by Levine-Caleb in high school and was then resurrected when he met Alper at New York University. When describing its style, the group stressed just how hard it is to pinpoint its sound.
“We’ve been called Genre Schizophrenic, meaning we have multiple personalities in our music,” Alper said. “Sometimes it’s like beat, hip-hoppy soul music, sometimes it’s super spacey, droney, and [sometimes it’s] into punk.”
Calling the group’s sound schizophrenic simultaneously does and doesn’t do it justice. Each song constantly bounced from genre to genre, but in a way that was smooth yet loaded with demented energy.
“We all have our foot into experimental stuff outside the band,” Levine-Caleb added. “[Alper] does like experimental improv; I produce hip-hop.”
Ultimately, what made the band’s sound so unique was the complete absence of a guitar. Instead, it relied on bass and on heavy use of samples. This yielded some pretty amazing results. Some of its songs, such as “No Evidence,” started out with a strong, fast-paced punk sound, only to then slow down and bring in the saxophone, turning the song into much more of a jazz-blues sort of piece. Even cooler was when, for the song “I Got Skin,” Alper started laying down a beat-boxing sample and then had it running throughout the song, giving it almost an African-sounding rhythm. The strongest part of the entire set was that it was so consistently filled with these kinds of surprises.
Fortunately, the band also brought a frenetic energy to match its sound. While playing in these incredibly tight conditions, the band chose to completely do away with any boundaries between the band members and the audience. At random times during a song, Levine-Caleb would walk through the crowd while playing his bass. Other times, when the sax wasn’t needed, Ben would jump into the audience and start moshing with them. The band made it readily apparent that they were having possibly as much fun as the audience, with Levine-Caleb shouting at one point, “You guys aren’t cynical like everyone else back in New York!”
Following the final song, the band invited some volunteers to come and do some freestyle rapping, with Levine-Caleb climbing on top of one of the amps to make room. Funnily enough, it was Ebstein and Dehnow who ended up returning to the stage, along with Miles McLeod ’17.
“Yeah, it was totally spontaneous,” Ebstein wrote in a message to The Argus. “They just asked if anyone wanted to come up and freestyle, and since I love free-styling and getting turnt up, we did. And it was the last song, actually, which was pretty cool, because Arian and I had opened, so we got to come full circle.”
What really made the concert great was the overriding intensity of both the audience and the performers. The cramped Earth House venue was perfect for the bands, as they all encouraged this sense of community between those playing and those listening. When I exchanged a final message with Levine-Caleb, he seemed to have felt this too.
“We Loved Earth House; Great dudes and great vibes,” Levine-Caleb wrote. “We usually like to be as abrasive and in your face as you saw last night, but in a good way.”