It's `moe.' than just a great show
By ANDREW JONES
Scene Music Critic
Shortly past 7 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 24, anxious banter filled The Vic Theater in Chicago. Chants, clapping and the clink of bottles were highly audible, and the smoke in the theater was so thick one could have cut it with a knife. Tie-dyes, hemp, beads, dreads and bloodshot eyeballs were in high fashion for the buzzing crowd. The house lights dimmed, and the audience erupted as Al Schnier, Rob Derhak, Chuck Garvey, Vinnie Amico and guest percussionist Jim Loughlin, strolled out under the stage lights. moe.'s "Quest For Ray" tour had arrived in Chicago.
Formed in 1991, moe. hails from Buffalo, N.Y., and features a highly-energized, improvisational bluegrass rock sound that incorporates other genres, such as jazz and reggae. In 1997, moe. was voted one of Rolling Stone's 10 hottest underground bands and began drawing the attraction of many Phish-heads.
Back at The Vic, tapers formed a row of about 10 to 15 microphone stands ready to capture last Friday's jams in their entirety. Tapes and CDs of the evening's performance will begin to circulate among moe. fans a few days after the show. Typically known as a jam band, moe. thrives primarily on its live performances.
And jam they did.
The band began the first set with a high-paced version of "Brent Black," which featured Derhak on lead vocals. While Derhak is not the world's greatest vocalist, his definitive bass lines never ceased. He stepped away from the microphone to gel with his fellow band mates during the opening song, and jaws dropped as he plunged into a five-minute bass solo.
Awestruck, the audience watched as he demonstrated his ability to slap, finger pick and furiously articulate the fingerboard of his bass. Derhak's bandmates bopped their heads as they provided rhythm for his solo.
While the band conveyed a high sense of energy in "Brent Black," it did not connect with the audience very well. During other tunes such as "Stranger Than Fiction" and "Opium," moe.'s energy was inconsistent.
For example, guitarists Schnier and Garvey often manipulated their delay pedals, a tool that can easily mask mediocre soloing skills. Also, the light show for the first set was generally poor and featured nothing unique.
The band ended the set with "Recreational Chemistry," during which Lou-ghlin drew the crowd's attention on percussion. Hands flying as he played the bongos, Loughlin seemed to be the only musician not detached from the performance by the end of the first set.
Returning to the stage for the second set, moe. performed "Seat Of My Pants." Already, it was clear the band was more involved in its jamming. "Seat of My Pants" featured less delay pedals on behalf of the guitarists, and Garvey proved to be a true master of the instrument. Garvey soloed on his Fender Stratacaster with a blazing intensity that triggered an intensity in the band's overall feel.
The group brought the crowd to life performing "Happy Hour Hero," during which Garvey's phrasing was funky and precise, but "Yodelittle," with a segue into "Four," proved to be the climax of the show. These two songs exemplified tight, lengthy jams that sustained intensity whether the jam's tempo was mellow or fast-paced.
Lighting director Chris Ragan provided fabulously psychedelic eye-candy as swirling triangles swept across the crowd in sync with the music and sharp purple light searched every corner of the Vic. The crowd grooved through the entire second set. The night ended with a 15-minute version of "Meat," during which Amico displayed his talents as a percussionist.
For an encore, moe. did what they do best: a jam that segued into the popular "Rebubula," featuring another bass line of incredible virtuosity that only Derhak could pull off. There could not have been a better song to end the show.
The band had The Vic on fire, and the crowd was thoroughly impressed by moe.'s performance. So if you're not an audiophile who can't listen to anything but U93, get out and groove to moe. the next time it's in the area.
Surrender to the buzz of the performance, melt away in the lights, melt away in the jams.
All Scene Stories for Tuesday, September 28, 1999