[3 December 2009]
It’s another balmy November evening in Austin, and what better way to spend it then hanging outside at Stubbs with jam-rock stalwarts moe.? The band is riding high, two weeks out from a Halloween show in Albany, NY that featured covers of Phish’s “Stash” and the Grateful Dead’s “Eyes of the World”, as well as sandwiching the Dead’s proto-psychedelic classic “Dark Star” into their own neo-classic jam vehicle “Rebubala”. While the band hasn’t been able to make the quantum leap to the arena rock level of Phish and The Dead, they’ve nonetheless carved out their own niche as one of the most entertaining bands in rock. They’ve grown from a Buffalo bar band into a national touring force that plays all the best club and theater venues in the nation, and have even headlined Radio City Music Hall on New Year’s Eve.
Just about anything goes with moe., from mindblowing prog-rock to amusing covers that tickle the funny bone, all of which makes this evening yet another adventure on the band’s long and winding road of musical exploration. The group is ready to rock from the moment they hit the stage with “Crab Eyes”, as guitarists Al Schnier and Chuck Garvey jump right into extended wah-wah improvisation. The duo are one of the great guitar tandems of the modern generation and their chemistry keeps growing through the years.
The first set is well-played and features big jams in “Bring You Down” and set closer “Bear Song”, with the latter featuring some crowd interaction and quick, clever teases of Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side” and Def Leppard’s “Rock of Ages” that could be easily missed if you’re not paying attention. Bassist Rob Derhak is en fuego and his playing propels the jam higher, while the band’s harmonies do the same. Schnier and Garvey tear it up on some skillfully intertwined guitar lines while drummer Vinnie Amico and percussionist Jim Loughlin build the energy to a peak for the type of jam that seems to promise a big second set.
If you only get to see moe. once or twice a year, it’s quite possible that you could go several years without hearing some of your favorite songs. So when the band launches into their classic “Moth” early in the second set, a fuse is lit that sparks the crowd energy to a new level as the band rocks out on one of their greatest tunes. The crowd sings along with the “She knows nothing at all about life / She knows everything about living” chorus and the band seems about to launch into a stellar jam. But they throw a curveball by segueing sharply into “Ricky Marten”, a showcase for some funky guitar interplay. The band then veers into the Santana-ish “Time Ed”, dabbling in yet more diverse musical flavor.
The band makes its way through an ambient jam to the inevitable return of “Moth” some twenty minutes later, as the band and crowd coalesce into a deep collective groove with Derhak’s tight, punchy bass line leading the way. Schnier and Garvey team for some fiery guitar explorations that build the jam higher and higher, earning a series of cheers from the crowd on what has become an extended peak wave. When the jam finally drops back into the “Moth” chorus, it’s an ecstatic moment of shared ecstasy that defines why moe. are among the best at what they do – psychedelic jam-rock magic that takes the listener on a journey.
The melodic, almost bluegrass stylings of “Tambourine” provide a bit of a breather, though the music keeps flowing in a swinging way. The energy cranks right back up with the melodic “Bring it Back Home”, a sing-a-long favorite that gets the crowd involved once again. But it’s a 20-plus minute version of fan favorite “Buster” that pushes the set over the top with jammy, melodic goodness. The song has a little bit of everything – rich vocal harmonies, a groovy bass line, rocking cow bell, psychedelic twin guitar lines, and deep ensemble jamming. ¬If you like short songs that end in a few minutes, look elsewhere. But for those with a love for extended musical explorations on eargasmic melodic themes, moe. is your band. Schnier rips it up toward the end, stepping out rock star-style by his monitor for guitar pyrotechnics. But the truth is that the band are more like anti-rock stars. Superb musicians they may be, but the band’s down-to-earth demeanor is a significant part of what makes them so endearing to their fans. There are no pretensions of any kind…just great music.
The charged crowd chants “moe, moe, moe”, and are clearly ready for more of their heroes. An acoustic-style encore of Tenacious D’s “Fuck Her Gently” proves to be a growing fan favorite, with the crowd singing along to almost every line as Garvey imitates Jack Black in “the greatest band in the world”. The band goes back into full-on rock mode with “Wicked Awesome”, cranking the amps back up for an ode that pays tribute to hearing one’s favorite tunes on the radio. The wah-wah is cranked up for one more intense jam as the band brings another great night to a conclusion.