9 Mar 2013: The Fonda Theater Los Angeles
It’s the last night of moe.‘s winter tour and the conclusion here in the city of angels makes it feel like spring has arrived, even though the equinox is still looming. This part of central Hollywood used to have a pretty seedy vibe, but Los Angeles has become an evolving metropolis in the 21st century. Hollywood has been part of the city’s metaphorical spring cleaning.
Local music heroes like Jane’s Addiction and Guns N’ Roses wrote songs that immortalized the shadier side of life on the mean streets of Hollywood in the late 1980s but there’s a different vibe now. The area has been cleaned up a bit. The massive Amoeba Records sparkles nearby. There’s even a craft beer bar right next to the Fonda Theater. It’s a new dawn in Hollywood, making this a more attractive part of town for a show.
Inside the venue, patrons find one of the hidden gems of the Southern California music scene. L.A.‘s own Orgone opens the show with a stellar set that mixes an afro-beat type of horn section with polyrhythmic percussion and old school funk grooves that recall Fela Kuti, the Parliament Funkadelic and The Meters. The band’s name translates to “a universal life force” or “cosmic unit of energy”, and that energy is clearly evident here.
The sound is crystal clear all over the room, unlike some places (cough cough San Diego House of Blues), making for a great presentation by such a dynamic band. The house is only half full and those who haven’t arrived yet are missing out. Vocalist Niki J. Crawford has got charismatic star power and a super tight lineup backing her up. A smoking cover of Rare Earth’s classic “I Just Want to Celebrate” really sets the tone for a fabulous Saturday night in Hollywood. The band delivers one hot dance groove after another, letting the good times roll to get the party started right.
During the set break, patrons enjoy fresh air or a smoke on the theater’s lush and spacious rooftop patio. This space trumps the crammed smoking area at the Nokia Live venue where moe. played on their previous visit to L.A. just over a year ago. Decorative lighting and a panoramic view of the area make for a great hang-out scene that’s more than just a place to kill time between sets.
The surprise when moe. hits the stage is that bassist Rob Derhak is seated with a broken foot. But that will not keep this rock warrior out of the lineup. The upstate New York band has been playing these type of smaller theater venues in California for over 15 years. They’ve been one of the stalwart bands of the jamrock scene since the late ‘90s, ever pushing the envelope with catchy melodic tunes, big grooves and melty psychedelic jams. They probably won’t ever break through to the mainstream but that’s part of what makes a band like moe. such an endearing favorite in the counterculture scene. Their fans don’t care about hits or commercialism. They just want that feel good music—which moe. always delivers.
Tonight, an early highlight of the show is the the Rolling Stones’ “Can’t You Hear Me Knockin’”. Guitarists Al Schnier and Chuck Garvey are one of the best six-string duos in the business and they do a fabulous job on this number. It’s a perfect tune for the Hollywood rock vibe and the crowd loves every minute. The special treats continue when Orgone’s Jordan Katz and Darren Cardoza join the band on trumpet and trombone for “Happy Hour Hero”, which leads to a great jazzy jam. Long-time classic “Akimbo” closes out the set with a flourish, with drummer Vinnie Amico and percussionist Jim Loughlin laying down some great tandem beats over Derhak’s popping bass line to pump up the tune. Schnier and Garvey deliver some of their most infectious riffs as well and it’s an elated crowd that heads back to the rooftop patio for the last set break.
moe. wastes no time when they open the second set with fan-favorite “Plane Crash”, one of their best jams and a tune that offers some deep thoughts on the perils of getting “too fucking high”. Derhak’s soulful vocals are a highlight on this number, as is the band’s jammy chemistry on this signature tune. The jam then segues right into “Water”, another crowd pleaser with a great melodic flow worthy of the song’s moniker.
The band maintains this flow throughout the set to keep the Saturday night “moe.rons” moving and grooving, with one tune easily segueing into another. This necessitates a constant flow of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale to keep their mouths from drying. The set wraps with an epic take on “Timmy Tucker”, another classic jam vehicle that receives top treatment here with dazzling guitar pyrotechnics on an extended sonic journey.
The jamrock scene has exploded in exponential fashion in the 21st century, thanks to a handful of bands such as moe. that paved that touring circuit in the late ‘90s. moe. remains not only one of the scene’s elders but still one of the top talents.