That's What's Up | Music | Salt Lake City Weekly

That's What's Up 

Munnin cracks the code for getting an audience engaged in a live show.

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On Saturday, April 2, The Beehive (666 S. State) offered up a three-band bill called Fool's Fest. The opening band, Sunfish, was a group made up of younger musicians—"younger" as in "not long removed from high school." Because of this, the audience was young too, including a lot of kid siblings that barely cracked the designation of "tween." (Possibly the night's top highlight was seeing a five- or six-year-old breaking into an impromptu dance, set to no music, just moments after our arrival. That was classic.)

There were a lot of teens still shuffling around the dance floor as the night's second band, Munnin, were sound checking. The Provo band's not significantly older than Sunfish, as two of the members are in college and two have just graduated, with BYU the group's location of origin. With tiger stripes painted on their faces, Cobra Kai-style headbands and universally short haircuts, the band looks a bit like a family band from the '80s, though this young crew's unrelated, save for their shared love of rock'n'roll.

Munnin is made up of songwriter Josh Bird on vocals; Dave Long on drums and vocals; Joe Carson on bass; and Hunter Harmon on guitar. Augmented by Bird's backing tracks, the band mixes-and-matches influences. Their first track of the night, "Snake," showed a clear influence of Rage Against the Machine, a band that Munnin's covered. But within a song or two, it was obvious that there was not one set formula that they were working from. At times, the group brings some serious '80s energy, as if they're channeling Oingo Boingo. At other times, there's an early 2000s feel with pop punk and emo at the clear center of things. And there's gotta be mention of their cover of "What's Up?" by 4 Non Blondes, which had the crowd in full sing-along mode.

It's a track that Bird says has been part of the band's live repertoire for a few years now. "We would experiment with covers, things that were more rock'n'roll," says Bird, a day after the show. "I heard 'What's Up?' one day and decided to make our own version of it, see how weird we could make it. We tried it out, made a little backing track and have been playing it ever since. People like to jump around and scream the words. It's been an unexpected hit with our fans."

The "jump around" part of this shouldn't be glossed over. Bird has a definite charisma on stage; he's committed to his act, and doesn't mind being a bit goofy to "break through the ice" of an audience's hesitation. For this gig, maybe 50 or 60 people were in the room, across a massive age spectrum. About 35 or 40 of them were right in front of the stage, and when Bird asked them to come closer to the stage, they did. When he asked them to jump around, they did. When he asked them to sing, they did.

This Fool's Fest show was originally set to be the first show at Hangar House, but that room turned out to be not yet ready for the gig; it then moved into a short period of being an outdoor show in Provo, before noise issues nixed that idea. Less than two weeks before the gig, The Beehive picked it up, and with all of the changes, the crowd for Munnin was relatively small. Despite that, Bird played to the room as if it were full, scooting around the stage, engaging the audience in toasts of bottled water, hopping off stage into the pit for dance-alongs.

This audience, with its teens and middle-agers, too, was an odd one. But he owned it. Maybe that's because the group's been touring a bit, with shows in California and Idaho. Or, maybe it's just how they roll.

"I like to make music from the idea or message that you should do whatever you want, that life is short and you shouldn't be so in your head that you don't enjoy the moment," Bird says. "We want to create a family in the room. We like it to be crazy. Like, really fun crazy, not hurt each other crazy. We want the room to be a community, to have camaraderie. That's why we start off with that song 'Snake.' It's an explosive first moment, there to get everyone out of their shell. And once that shell's cracked, you can get anyone to go along with anything."

It's impossible to say this for sure, but when Munnin played The Beehive they were likely having more fun than any band in town that night. And when a band's operating at that level, it's not hard to have some fun with them.

Munnin's latest single, "Eat Worms," is currently available on Spotify.

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Thomas Crone

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