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(17 Jan 2008: The Fillmore — San Francisco, CA)

Hot on the heels of their New Year’s Eve blow-out at Radio City Music Hall, moe. journeyed westward to another of the nation’s most prestigious venues, San Francisco’s legendary Fillmore Auditorium. The jam-rock stalwarts, who hail from upstate New York, have been a Fillmore favorite since their first appearance at the venue back in 1997, and their semi-regular visits have become a perennial highlight of the Bay Area concert calendar.

With its velvet drapes, glowing chandeliers, and long, storied history, the Fillmore is without doubt one of the best places in the world to see a band like moe. Combining catchy tunes, melodic guitar-driven jams, and a mesmerizing light show, the group represents a welcome return to the classic psych style first pioneered at the venue some 40 years ago.

Standing confidently before the Fillmore crowd, moe. hits the ground running with a three-song segue of “Not Coming Down>Wormwood>Akimbo”, establishing a groovy, high-energy mood from the start. Bassist Rob Derhak is particularly sharp, delivering some funky string slapping on “Not Coming Down”. Derhak looks like he just rolled out of bed, but, then, that’s part of moe.’s down-to-earth charm—they may have rock-god chops, but the band members look like your everyday dudes at a keg party. And in the end, their choice to take the stage in jeans, t-shirts, and no pretensions is part of what makes them so accessible.

The band has just taken nearly three weeks off, but you can hardly tell. “Wormwood” brings the tempo down a notch, while keeping the crowd moving with its slinky groove, slippery slide guitar, and spacey sound effects. “Akimbo” then launches the show into blastoff, with the band jamming out as if deep in the second set.

moe. then dips into their new album, Sticks & Stones, for the title track; its classic-rock sound is well-received. Perennial favorite “Captain America” follows, turning the Fillmore into a raging dance party. Guitarists Al Schnier and Chuck Garvey are on top of their game, while Derhak, drummer Vinnie Amico, and percussionist Jim Loughlin lay down a rock-solid foundation that pushes the envelope of the groove.

Observing a long-held San Francisco tradition, “Waiting for the Punchline” closes the first set with a guest appearance by a local musician—in this case, Hot Buttered Rum’s Aaron Redner on fiddle. The explosive jam is reminiscent of “I Know You Rider” jams from the Grateful Dead, as Schnier, Garvey, and Redner trade licks and bring the crowd to the peak of the mountaintop several times.

The second set kicks off with the new “Darkness”, which seems to comment on the dire socio-political state of the planet. The song appears to tie in with the stage’s backdrop, a tree with a bar code in its roots—an apparent commentary on the commoditization of the environment. “Shoot First” changes the sonic vibe as Derhak switches to upright bass and Schnier takes up an acoustic guitar. It’s a lengthy second set, and the packed dance floor eventually begins to thin out, giving the die-hards a little more elbow room.

The set peaks out with the monster concluding trio of “Lazerus>Yodelittle>Plane Crash”, each song bringing soaring jams and ultra-psychedelic lighting with it. It’s a new year, but moe.’s tried-and-true formula never seems to get old. Hot Buttered Rum’s Erik Yates joins the band on flute for “Plane Crash”, amusingly recalling Ron Burgundy’s stupendous flute solo from Anchorman while also helping to take the classic jam in a new, jazzier direction. The results make for a unique rendition of the old fan favorite.

The encore kicks off another new experiment, with moe. inviting fans who have pre-ordered the new album to join them onstage, ostensibly to help sing the album track “Raise a Glass”, a tune arranged like an old Irish folk song and featuring Schnier on mandolin, with Redner and Yates back on fiddle and flute. While a nice idea in theory, the execution is somewhat lacking (not everyone knows the words). Derhak acknowledges as much afterward, and Schnier jokes that the song may have peaked in the studio. But trust moe. not to end a show with an anti-climactic moment. The guests depart the stage and leave the five remaining men to rock out on “The Road”, re-summoning the evening’s musical magic in all its extended glory.

Greg M. Schwartz has covered music and pop culture for PopMatters since 2006. He focuses on events coverage with a preference for guitar-driven rock 'n' roll, but has eclectic tastes for the golden age of sound that is the 21st century music scene. He has a soft spot for music with a socially conscious flavor and is also an award-winning investigative reporter. Follow him on Twitter at @gms111, where he's always looking for tips on new bands or under the radar news items.

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