[4 December 2011]
Any time a jam band plays a show with an opening act, you know it’s going to be a late night. Considering that Great American Taxi didn’t even start until 9:15 pm, it was set to be a very late night. But it was a Saturday, and the end of Daylight Savings Time to boot, so the crowd was in it for the long haul. With roughly five hours of show ahead, we headed up to the balcony to find a seat. Fitzgerald’s is a relatively small club, especially for a band like moe., and the front end of the balcony is a great vantage point, practically on top of the stage.
Great American Taxi played a loose brand of easygoing country rock. They occasionally stretched out songs with extended solos, but they aren’t really a jamband themselves. Nevertheless, their upbeat sound, rounded out with a lot of organ and sometimes mandolin, was a lot of fun. The crowd was very appreciative, and their set was very good.
moe. hit the stage shortly after 10, opening with the hard-hitting “Crab Eyes”. This is one of a handful of the band’s songs that seem to work perfectly as openers and indicate a good show is in the offing. The song’s combination of reggae-style verses and hard rock riffing is a weird mélange that can be the launching pad for any number of styles. In this case, it led to a first set dominated by some of the band’s chunkier material.
“Crab Eyes” was followed by the relatively new “Paper Dragon”, a song that switches back and forth between a thick mid-tempo southern rock guitar riff and a much faster ’70s-style riff. The song also includes an impressive bit in which the entire band (both guitars, bass, and vibraphone) play a complex composed section in unison over the drums. Continuing the hard rock theme, the band went into “It” next, which features one of their heaviest riffs. What really made the song pop this time out, though, was the spot-on three-part harmony from Chuck Garvey, Rob Derhak, and Al Schnier. The rest of the set found the band playing a pair of oldies. The bright “St. Augustine” flowed into the joyful “She Sends Me” and eventually back into the finish of “St. Augustine”. The relatively short set ended after less than an hour with another newish song, “Downward Facing Dog”, another solid rocker that allows for plenty of jam time.
The second set found the band taking full advantage of the chance to start fresh and change the mood. They began with the easygoing “Kyle’s Song”, complete with major crowd participation in the handclap sections. The playful feeling of the set continued with the great “Kids”, which, as always, featured some excellent vibraphone work from Jim Loughlin. Next up was the silly “Spine of a Dog”, which had the crowd singing along to “You say potato and I say three!” An extended mid-tempo jam followed and the music sounded like it could’ve flowed into many other songs, but eventually the band settled on “Yodelittle”. I’m not a huge fan of this song, but it fit nicely with the mood of the set.
As the second set wound down moe. started to bring the rock back into the picture with the simultaneously goofy and hard-hitting “Spaz Medicine”. They followed this with the relatively recent “Runaway Overlude” another Rob Derhak song that pairs muscled prog-rock riffing with dueling guitar solos from Schnier and Garvey. Between this song and “Paper Dragon”, Derhak seems to be in a particularly fertile songwriting period at the moment, so let’s hope both of these songs turn out sounding as good on the band’s next album as they did at this show. The show closed out back in playful mode with the classic “Buster”, which soared in all the right places.
The band came back for an encore with an excellent rendition of “Seat of My Pants”, a song which has a new vitality since the band recorded it for 2010’s Smash Hits, vol. 1. This was a strong show for moe. Even after 20 years, the band is still playing with intensity and writing new material with enthusiasm.