It’s a new year, and many bands are taking time off to rest and recharge after playing big New Year’s Eve runs. But a handful of East Coast bands usually see January’s dead of winter as a good time for a West Coast tour. The men of Moe are probably grateful to have a California run lined up after a shocking tragedy that occurred right outside their New Year’s Eve show in Rochester when a bizarre car crash and explosion right outside the arena killed several people and injured nine others just as the show was letting out.
“In these moments of confusion and grief, we stand together in solidarity… We believe in the power of music to heal and unite, and it is in this spirit that we will continue to move forward,” the band said in a larger statement.
These are strange and often savage times as this world gone mad moves through the 2020s. But music has long served as a healing medicine, so what’s a rock ‘n’ roll band to do but hit the road again and kick out the jams. Moe have also faced personal turmoil with bassist Rob Derhak and guitarist Chuck Garvey, both rebounding from serious health problems in recent years. But the band are now back at full strength.
It’s been four years since Moe’s last Fillmore visit, right before the crazy pandemic of 2020, but the venue has been a home away from home for Moe ever since their Fillmore debut in 1997. The show featured a special guest appearance from the Grateful Dead‘s Bob Weir, who made it feel like he was bestowing some of the psychedelic torch’s flame to Moe. He went on to record a live album here in 1999, followed by another guest appearance from Weir in 2003.
The West Coast tour’s first two stops featured regionally flavored covers, with a cover of Stone Temple Pilots‘ “Interstate Love Song” in San Diego and a performance of the Dead’s “West LA Fadeaway” in Los Angeles, leading fans to speculate about what San Francisco classics might be in store tonight here on 20 January. Moe open with a blissful instrumental jam that gets the audience right into the mood before moving into the tasty groove of “Crab Eyes”. There’s some jazzy xylophone from percussionist Jim Loughlin and some psychedelic talk box from Derhak, both seem to take advantage of the Fillmore’s timeless multi-genre vibrations.
Garvey and guitarist Al Schnier start shredding over a hot groove on “Bearsong”, with drummer Vinnie Amico pounding the skins, and it’s clear to see Moe are revved up. Schnier sports a Buffalo Bills hat, no surprise since the team has a playoff game the next day, and he and Derhak and Garvey first jammed as students at the University of Buffalo in 1990.
“We liked music, we liked to party, and we wanted to put those two things together,” Derhak says on the group’s website. “We wanted to do what seemed like the coolest thing we could possibly do and not have to work a regular job. It didn’t even seem like a decision had to be made. It was like, this is what we’re doing, and it’s happening. The idea that thirty years later I would be a dad, paying a mortgage and earning a living, based on our band, with the same guys no less, that never even crossed my mind.”
Derhak gets the audience rocking with “Okayalright”, his classic ode about awakening to the power of rock ‘n’ roll as a youth and “smoking joints in the parking lot” outside his high school. It’s a time-honored tradition for those who view the rock ‘n’ roll counterculture as religion, and the congregation is loving this sermon tonight. The rocker leads into a mesmerizing first-time cover of Led Zeppelin‘s “Goin’ to California”, with new keyboardist Nate Wilson providing the heady vocals while Schnier gets extra Jimmy Page vibes going with his 12-string guitar.
The Led Zeppelin classic segues seamlessly into “So Long”, which has a similarly shimmering mystical vibe with Schnier singing, “I can feel it coming round again, And I hear it, that sound again… must be on my way”. Catching a great rock band like Moe at the Fillmore always makes it feel like one has found their way, and so it is again here. There’s also some classy jazz flute from Wilson over Latin-esque percussion from Amico and Loughlin.
That feeling of being in the right place at the right time surges again when a deep jam on “Paper Dragon” finds a way into the ever-incendiary “Rebubula”, one of Moe’s most beloved classics. The anthemic jam vehicle about falling for a siren’s sweet song never fails to ignite with its pulsing groove and Allman-esque twin guitar melodies. It’s another wave of ecstatic salvation for the Fillmore congregation here tonight, closing out the first set with a fantastic finish that wins a big ovation.
The second set starts with “Hi & Lo”, a sublime Chuck Garvey tune that had been on the shelf during his nearly two-year absence from the band after a debilitating stroke in 2021. The song about a “lucky twist of fate” has a comforting vibe that feels right here at the Fillmore. The jam moves into the bluesy yet ultra-groovy “Yodelittle,” an old-school gem that has the dance floor moving as Wilson throws down some psychedelic organ over Derhak’s fat groove. Moe take the song for an extended sonic journey here to make it a real crowd-pleaser.
Derhak’s new “Bat Country” starts slow and jazzy with more flute from Wilson before suddenly taking off into a soaring jam section, as if the drugs kicked in near Barstow on that road trip from Los Angeles to Vegas. Schnier follows with his take on Jerry Garcia’s “Deal” as the tour continues to honor each city, kicking another festive dance party into action. The trippy “McBain” takes a wild ride, including a furious finish with a quick tease of Talking Heads‘ “Crosseyed and Painless” for a climactic conclusion to the set.
“We’ve been through a lotta shit… but I know we all have, and we sure do appreciate having you all,” Schnier says in thanks during the encore. Moe close the show with a stellar ride on Deep Purple’s classic “Space Truckin”, with Loughlin belting out the gritty Ian Gillan vocal. The song about “meeting all the groovy people” while rocking the Milky Way feels like a fitting finale for another triumphant fiesta through time and space at the Fillmore.