Like Phish or the Dead before them, moe. inspires fanaticism.
It’s a truly frigid evening outside the Ogden Theater on Colfax Avenue. A drastic blast of winter has plunged Denver into the single digits. It was downright balmy just two weeks prior when the Black Crowes played the same stage, but such is life in the Mile High City. With a constant stream of hot shows to warm the soul it’s easy to see why Denver has become such a popular destination for live music fanatics.
Some bands choose to bypass Colorado in the winter months. It only makes sense, but for jam rock bands like moe. there are few other cities to match the dedicated fanbase of Denver. The local music scene has been thriving for decades, but a recent evolution in the scene has elevated the Mile High City into the stratosphere. Add in the statewide legalization of cannabis and a far more affordable cost of living than the west coast can accommodate, and it’s easy to see why Denver has surpassed San Francisco in the eyes of many as mecca to the rock ‘n’ roll crowd.
Traditionally, moe. brings in a rabid audience. The group is like a band of brothers, and there’s a similar camaraderie with the fan base. Guitarists Al Schnier and Chuck Garvey are among the most respected teams in the jam business, and bassist Rob Derhak is a virtuosic groove monster. All three share lead vocal duty and when their voices combine the harmonies can by hypnotic. Drummer Vinnie Amico and percussionist/multi-instrumentalist Jim Loughlin make a dynamic duo and when the quintet gets rolling, they become a musical force.
“The Pit” receives an extended treatment early on, with Schnier singing about being “mile high”. A deep xylophone solo from Loughlin builds the groove until it segues seamlessly into fan favorite “Kyle”. After an enthusiastic applause Schnier and Garvey are shred melting hot leads on a jam that feels more appropriate in the heart of the second set, yet it’s merely the third song of the night.
For those fans that have been seeing moe. for a number of years, as most of them have, there’s an almost timeless quality to the shows. The band is rocking out, the friendly crowd is in a great mood and the melodic jams lift the soul. It could be the late ‘90s, the mid-aughties or 2013, but there’s a groovy goodness at moe. shows that displaces the soul into a timeless plane of spiritual freedom. This seems overtly acknowledged when one of the band members utters a “Gunter glieben glauchen globen” from Def Leppard’s “Rock of Ages” during the big jam on “Bear Song”. When it concludes, the band receives another rousing ovation.
“It’s so good to be back in the Promised Land”, Schnier says in acknowledgement of Denver’s heady scene. The promised land is a term long associated with California. It's the title of a Chuck Berry song the Grateful Dead covered for decades. In it the protagonist sings of flying over to the Golden State. But with California’s ever rising cost of living and Colorado’s new status as America's most legal outlet for cannabis it’s clear that the times are a changing.
The deep jamming extended through the entire set, concluding with a massive rendition of the band’s classic jam vehicle “Timmy Tucker”. The song clocks in around 23 minutes. The muggles of the music world might wonder why a song should be so long, but to fans who appreciate musical wizardry, the jam is an epic journey that can’t be matched by the industry standard three minute pop song. The multiple peaks of psychedelic twin guitar licks create a sonic roller coaster ride of epic highs and bone crushing lows.
For many bands, 90 minutes would do for an entire show. But for moe., it’s just one set down with another to come. moe. begins their second half with “Big World” and the show is immediately returned to high gear. The hot syncopated groove of “Ricky Marten” kicks in a dance party atmosphere, using cow bell to accentuate funky riffs. This leads to a surprise bust-out of Pink Floyd’s “Time”. The perennial favorite was a timely selection considering its references to winter’s cold. At the tune's apex, the mic was cut allowing the crowd to take lead on the 'home, home again' verse. It was a moment of collective consciousness for one of rock's seminal tunes, providing manna to an enraptured audience.
“Oh Chanukah” provides another seasonal treat, delivered with an almost surf rock flavor. And finally a trio of rocking jams closed out the high energy show. Before the encore, Schnier continues a band tradition by reading notes from fans. Birthdays and other special occasions are often the topic, while others are in celebration of a fan's 51st or even 120th (!) show. Like Phish or the Dead before them, moe. inspires fanaticism. The show was closed with a “Spine of the Dog” encore inciting another crowd singalong. It was a fabulous night at the Ogden Theater, only made better by the fact it was the first in a two night run.