The air surrounding Spider House Ballroom was hot and sticky the night I met Mobley. The venue had been celebrating their 20th anniversary since 2:30 p.m. that afternoon. Having suffered one rainstorm and expecting another, a muggy, sweaty crowd waited for the Austin native to perform. When I asked Mobley before the show which stage he was on, he answered, “The wettest one.”
His start time of 10 p.m. came and went. The crowd grew restless as Mobley, wearing a black hat, jacket and sunglasses in the ninety-degree evening, dragged mountains of gear onto the rain-slicked stage. A keyboard and sampler rack. Stage lighting. Guitars. Drums. Up on the roof of Spider House Café, a tech aimed a video projector at the screen set towards the back of the stage. All for a one-man band.
You heard right. One guy playing a solo show. All that gear.
Just as the audience began to grumble in response to fresh rainfall, Mobley hit a button and exploded into his first song, “Victoria.” It hit the crowd like a shockwave, shaking raindrops from the trees. One of Austin’s most interesting and talented artists, Mobley turns the smallest of the stages into an amphitheater of lights, textures and overwhelming sound.
Mobley All Alone Again, Solo
Mobley’s artistic leanings began at an early age. Learning violin when he was six and trumpet when he was 13, he had a solid foundation in music theory and structure. But like most artists looking to grow, he felt hemmed in by sheet music and needed to explore.
Fast forward a decade, and Mobley became an established artist touring with a full band. But band members began to fall by the wayside. On his last tour, Mobley was faced with a decision: play acoustic or try something new. Mobley opted for the latter, creating the one-man band featured on his latest EP, “Some Other Country.”
Big Sound From One-Man Show
What Mobley lacks in band members, he more than makes up for with his music. Watching him jump from keyboard to drums to guitar is exhilarating. While much of his music is dependent on sound loops and samples, his frenzied stage presence turns a laptop backing track into a genuine performance.
The songs themselves are soulful, grown up pop tunes crafted from a variety of different influences. Stand out tracks from the “Some Other Country” album include “Hound the World,” featuring a blend of thunderously ominous bass crunches and dreamy, layered vocals. “2:09 AM” pulses with the energy of an insistent, oft-rejected lover, while “Tell Me” layers bouncy soul/funk and a killer guitar solo into delightful ear candy.
Mobley’s latest single off the record is “Solo.” Undercut with a thick, chunky bass line and tight percussion, the song is an infectious head-bobber. The vocals echo and bounce and, like most of the record, expand into a tight, mesmerizing soundscape.
True Austin Performer
To truly “get” what makes Mobley tick, you need to see him live. Mixing theatrical lighting, film shorts and his kinetic energy, he makes small stages and clubs feel twice as big.
Even from the songwriting phase, it’s all about the live performance. “From the inception of the songs now, I’m thinking of them in terms of not just the music, but the visual component as well,” Mobley shared. “Lights, video, etc. It’s just a natural part of songwriting for me.”
The proof is in the product. When witnessed live, songs like “Solo” and yet to be released “Torch” grow from tightly-wound electronic pop songs to sonic avalanches. The punch of live kick drums and screaming guitar lends an urgency to the music that’s impossible to ignore.
Only One Mobley
On that sweltering evening in the middle of damp August, many bands played sets. They were honorable, impassioned performances, as artists did the best they could considering what the weather gave them. But Mobley? He put on a show.
Whenever the crowd’s energy waned, he fanned it back to life with shouts. The audience smacked a tom-tom along to jungle-inspired “Seven Summers.” And during “Swoon,” Mobley savagely played the drum kit as a video of his face underwater mouthed the lyrics.
“Especially in terms of the live show, it’s important that people feel inspired in some way. I’m not particularly interested in being avant-garde in any way. I like and write pop music. But I’m interested in finding my own niche and wrinkle in it, whether people like it or not.”
As Mobley’s Spider House set closed and a rare, sweet breeze trickled in from the east, there wasn’t a sad face to be found. Covered in confetti, sweat and renewed energy, the audience kept driving and dancing to Mobley’s final drum beat. The heavy humidity and fog of the day wasn’t enough to stamp out his electric performance. An artist of vision, energy and passion, Mobley owns a finely-tuned mix of percussion and theatrics, samples and soul.
For show info, merch and social media, visit mobleywho.com.
@BillTuckerTSP wants to know:
Have you seen Mobley perform live?