Indie Rockers MOTHXR Bring Unique Sound to Ann Arbor

On a Monday night in the middle of finals season, I traded quiet study for the Blind Pig to watch indie band MOTHXR perform with Polica. To be honest, I had no idea what to expect from the late semester crowd – with the last day of classes tomorrow, would anyone even show up?

I got to the Blind Pig early to get a good spot by the stage and, within minutes, was pleasantly surprised by the energy and passion flowing throughout the room as a bigger and bigger crowd swelled in. Hundreds of music fans buzzed with excitement, patiently waiting for the start of the show. Monday night? This could’ve been a weekend. I knew we were in for something special.

After a short wait, MOTHXR made its way through the crowd and climbed up to the stage – and of course, the crowd went wild. MOTHXR, a relative newcomer to the indie rock scene, consists of Simon Oscroft, Darren Will, Jimmy Giannopolous, and lead singer Penn Badgley (yes, that Penn; you might know him as Dan Humphrey from Gossip Girl).

The band made final adjustments, Penn tapped his mic, and just like that, MOTHXR launched into “Stranger” off their album Centerfold. No grandiose introductions, and no celebrity heartthrob showboating. As bass chords echoed off the walls of the Pig, it became absolutely clear that MOTHXR is so much more than another celebrity side project: by contrast, it’s actually really good music. Just like that, the show was on. 

Photo by Gwen McKee

Photo by Gwen McKee

I truly fell in love with the band when they played hit single “She Can’t Tell.” The song started out slow and relaxed, gradually growing before descending into a quick, exhilarating beat – all the while, supported by the distinct electronic-influenced sound and Penn’s smooth vocals. In a brief conversation before the show, my friend described her take on MOTHXR’s sound as a mixture of “sex and Michael Jackson,” something that stuck with me throughout the set. The sensuality of each song simply cannot be ignored (and was, of course, extremely prevalent during the song “Touch”).

Most noticeable of all, however, was the pure display of passion visible on the faces of each member. This was a new band, out on the road after a long tour – but without a hint of exhaustion on stage. Penn led the show on stage as he sang, each word exhibiting the raw love for music shared by the group. Which made it all the worse when, suddenly, it was over.

The emotionally gripping nature of the music managed to make me completely forget MOTHXR was the opener. As they announced the end of their set, I couldn’t help but feel deflated. I quickly realized that I was far from the only one disappointed to see the MOTHXR leave the stage. The chorus of screams demanding hit single “Easy” were answered with one final song, and energy swept through the room. The audience was completely euphoric, jumping and singing along to the song as it built momentum, increasing in intensity until vanishing. But even that felt like too little – after all, the band had to go sometime. And under the lights of the Blind Pig, go they did. Left in the orange hue were satisfied fans, happy to experience the music in person.

Photo by Gwen McKee

Photo by Gwen McKee

I was thoroughly impressed with this show. MOTHXR isn’t a celebrity side project – it’s a solid indie rock band from the roots up, with the melodies and musicianship to walk the walk even in front of a crowd like the Blind Pig. Penn and his bandmates sound like they belong on the top of the charts, and on the playlists of indie lovers worldwide. If you get a chance to see them this summer, I highly recommend going.

MOTHXR wraps up its journey with Polica this week before departing on a tour with Charles Bradley in May and The Neighbourhood in June. Check out their Facebook or Tumblr to stay updated on future tours and releases.