by Rob Patterson
Hailing from upstate New York, the five-piece band moe. has toured relentlessly over the last 10 years. Each year, honing their chops and gaining more and more ground as one of today’s greatest live bands.
moe. recently launched their Spring 2001 tour by playing several concerts in New England including a concert in Providence, Rhode Island, which served as the musical funeral of their rock opera, Timmy.
At the State Theatre in Portland Maine, Burlington Vermont’s Jazz Mandolin Project opened the first night of moe.’s spring tour. Lead by Jaime Masefield on mandolin, bassist Chris Dahlgren and drummer Ari Hoenig played a short bubbly set of their blended avant-garde progressive jazz. Touching on every musical style imaginable the Jazz Mandolin Project set a positively electrifying mood to the small theatre.
With the theatre still buzzing, moe. took the stage and opened their first set with the hard rocking, driven “Plane Crash.” The song drew cheers and screams from fans during the chorus, “I’m too f---ing high,” a sentiment well received by marijuana-smoking members of the crowd. Highlights of the first set included mesmerizing guitar duels between guitarists Al Schnier and Chuck Garvey on “Akimbo”, Rob Derhak’s assault of the bass on “Understand”, and the “Voodoo Lady” drumming work coming out of “Hi and Lo” by Jim Loughlin and Vinnie Amico. Masefield also returned to the stage to add his mandolin playing to the country flavored “Bring It Back Home.”
The second set began with a flawless cover of JJ Cale’s “Cocaine” and the immerging theme of the night continued. Second set continued with the intense jamming of “Mexico,” the new wave rocker “Kyle,” and the hypnotic and catchy “Opium.” Masefield returned again to lend his eclectic mandolin playing to “Happy Hour Hero,” and “Recreational Chemistry.” The encore concluded the evening, as Schnier proclaiming “This one’s for Joey” and the band launched into a fiery cover of “I Wanna Be Sedated” by the Ramones.
On the third night of the tour, moe. pulled into Providence, Rhode Island’s Veterans Memorial Auditorium to perform the last performance of their rock opera Timmy. Having only performed this suite twice before, fans were feverishly excited to hear what this story was about.
The first set was dedicated to the sorted tale of Timmy Tucker and his misadventures in New York City. The story begins with the introduction of Timmy, a boy from upstate New York who finds himself in the big apple. In the story Timmy is confronted by an overly aggressive hooker, a molesting central park troll, and finally the band moe. playing a song, “Timmy Tucker,” about him.
Twisted and bizarre sums up the would-be saga “Timmy.” Although the opera was not even close to cohesive rock operas like “Tommy” or “The Wall,” the opera was a very tongue in check and full of self-depreciating humor. The exchanges between Garvey and Schnier during the dialogue between Timmy and the prostitute Imelda May were hysterical.
For the second set, moe. continued to weave musical styles in what has become moe.’s trademark brand of poppy, catchy anthem rock.”32 Things” opened the set in rocking fashion and the soulful, bluegrassy “Time Again” swept the crowd with its sweet vocal refrain. The songwriting skills of moe. continued to hook the audience with favorites like “Captain America” and “She Sends Me.”
Schnier shifted to the keyboard as the band played a raucous “Four” which tightly segue into the very well received “Rebubula.” Garvey was able to showcase his playing and style, which is in severe contrast to Schnier’s. Both men are able-bodied guitarists but have very different styles. Schnier screams of punk and alternative, while Garvey’s classic rock leanings land the band somewhere in the middle. A spot only inhabited by moe. The band encored with one of their older songs, “Spine Of A Dog,” which left the audience screaming for more.
moe. will be playing 14 concerts in 12 cities and in just over two weeks time. Stops along the tour will include concerts along the East Coast, Canada, and this year’s New Orleans Jazz Fest.
After the Providence, Rhode Island concert I was able to catch up with moe.’s drummer, Vinnie Amico. Here is a section from our conversation:
RP: In a sentence or two can you describe what the rock opera “Timmy” is?
VA: A well, it is a stupid story about a guy that is …a from Buffalo..we actually knew a guy by this name, but it is not really about him. It’s just about some guy from Cheektowaga that is kind of green to the ways of New York city and he goes down there and he gets rolled and he looses all of his money…and then he has to kill a troll to get more money from a bookie friend of his that is across town. And then he winds up at the Wetlands in NY and he walks in and sees this band moe. who is actually singing a song about him and all his ordeals in NY and its surreal and it kind of freaks him out. That is kind of the gist of the story.
RP: How did this come about? I know some of the songs were written before this and it was kind of pieced together is that correct?
VA: This happened in 1995, before I was in the band. It was when they lived together (Rob, Al, Chuck, and Jim) and they had “Timmy Tucker” already the song, but they put together this rock opera in a week or so down in the basement. Played it out a couple of times and then…and then it got put away. Then we played it at the Wetlands in April 2000 and then we did it last night for the last time.
RP: Why did you guys decide to do it for the last time?
VA: Ah, because it’s stupid…no I don’t know…I mean it was written a while ago and you know it is pretty funny but…
RP: It’s outdated for what you are into now?
VA: Yeah, things have changed we played it one more time and put it to rest.
RP: What influence or elements do believe help create the new record (Dither)?
VA: Years of experience and writing and just some of the stuff we been listening to when we wrote the tunes. Some of the Americana influences in some of the songs that Al wrote because he was into a lot of that kind of thing and we basically were doing a lot of listening to music for production value. We tried to put a lot of that production value into the this album ourselves.
RP: How does running your own label (Fatboy Records) differ from when you were with a major label (Sony 550)?
VA: Well, as far as what the label had or was involved with us…it did not change much. They really weren’t that involved. They should have probably been but they did not care. You know. The fact of the matter is it’s ours. We have total say of everything that goes on. We don’t have an A & R guy saying, “Well that’s not going to be the radio tune” or “this is not going to be the radio tune,” which they won’t but to radio anyway. It’s basically all us. It is all in our hands. We have to decide what we think is good and what’s not and if that fails we have no one to blame but ourselves. The whole thing is just on us now…creatively and as well as well as economically. Everything.
RP: So it benefits you by a lot of freedom?
VA: Yeah total. A lot of freedom and we could…we stand to make more money just because we own it. We don’t have to worry paying money back. We don’t have to worry about selling 300,000 to 400,000 albums before we get any money back. Once you’ve sold a certain amount, everything is ours. So there is a lot of freedom in doing it, and if it does work…if it ends up being a lot better then Sony is, as far as, our sales go it shows that we can be successful at running a record company.
RP: With your new spring tour just underway, what are you enjoying about your current spring tour?
VA: Production is one thing I am really enjoying. We are carrying our own production, so set up is a lot easier. We come in and setup and everything is the same every night. We are using an in-ear monitor system now, so you can hear everything always. It is just great. Now we can get on stage for sound check and everything is done. We can actually use the time to rehearse. So that makes things a lot easier. And it is kind of like we’re our own rock show now. We have two buses and a semi-truck full of our own gear. It’s become more fully our production and it makes us play better right off the bat. Because we can actually hear everything going on. We came off a 5-week break and we came out first night and we were actually able to play and not have all that first night can’t hear, can’t play type of stuff. Also, the fact that we are playing every night that is going to be…there’s no breaks, no time off. We can just go out and slam every night. It’s short it’s only two weeks.
RP: Musically what have been some of the highlights in the last three shows?
VA: We pulled off the Timmy thing last night. That in itself. We did a new cover tune the other night, Cocaine, which was fun. We didn’t even rehearse it we just pulled it out on stage. It went off pretty well. And just the fact that we are able to hear onstage with the in-ear monitors kind of…we can go off a little bit more, because everybody can hear everybody in the band, so we are not so worried about missing any qs. We have been able to open up some of the jams right off the bat on this tour without having to work ourselves into some sort of comfort level for a week before we start trying stuff on stage. We can go right off and start trying stuff.
RP: I noticed that one of the dates coming up is for Jazz fest. Is this going to be moe.’s first Jazz fest?
RP: Have you ever attended a Jazz fest before?
VA: No, I’m psyched. I have only heard great things about it. It is the best thing happening in music pretty much.
RP: Why do you think so many bands labeled “jambands” have become so prevalent at Jazz fest?
VA: Because, basically jamming…jazz is improvisational music and jam rock is also. The only difference is one is based over jazz and one is based over rock. Otherwise it is really similar music and a lot of the jambands are just as jazzy as they are rocky, so I think it is a good fit. The fact of the matter is they bring a lot of people to Jazz fest. Some of the largest touring acts are jambands. That is why you get Dave Matthews there, Phish there whoever…Widespread. They attract a lot of people and it’s good music.
RP: Are there any performances you are planning on seeing at Jazz Fest?
VA: I’m going to go see Widespread, maybe go see Dave Matthews or either Paul Simon. I don’t know who else. I’m not even sure who’s playing. Gov’t Mule is playing so I am for surely going to see them. The new school of Gov’t Mule with Dave Schools and Chuck Leavell. I saw them down in Charlestown, South Carolina last week or two weeks ago and they are the best.
RP: Pretty tight package?
VA: They are so good. I mean they’ve always been so good when Woody was there. As far as rock bands go I don’t think that there are any bands that can rock like those guys. Except for us maybe.
RP: I noticed that at the end of your tour you are going to be doing some shows in Japan.
VA: That is correct.
RP: This is for the second time correct?
RP: What inspired the band to take on Japan as opposed to Europe?
VA: Well I think that there was interest from Japan. There is a promoter over there and he I think approached us about that. I’m not positive of the details of that. He was interested in bring us over and charting our sales over there. We had some merchandise sell over there and some albums and some stuff like that, so why don’t we go over there. We got the funding from the promoter and all that. And we went over there and it was fairly successful. I mean the kids loved it. It was awesome over there and everybody was very nice. So we said fuck it, lets go back. If we get back quickly so people back there don’t forget about us the chances are our market will have increased when we go over this time and we can continue a relationship with Japan. We are hopefully going to get to Europe as well. It is just taking a little longer. Economically if you can believe or it not it was easier for use to go there then it is for Europe. Cause we stood to make more money or lose less money going to Japan then going to Europe, because its you can’t make any or its tough to make any money in these little rinky dink bars.
RP: For your summer are you planning a national tour for the US?
VA: Yeah, we are going to do five or six weeks. We are going to try to do a bunch of camping weekends were we do two nights in a spot with camping and support acts. We are going to try to do that each weekend. I know that we are going to play the High Sierra Music Festival. We might do a date or two with Phil Lesh and Friends and we are just trying to get the rest of the tour together probably with us headlining. Like I said on the weekend gigs having sum good support and doing these camping weekend types of things.
RP: Are there any acts that you have been considering for the support role?
VA: I know we are going to try to do a few dates with Les Claypool. I think that we are going to be out in Minnesota and we are going to be doing a few dates with the Big Wu and whoever else is out there to support. And we are working on some other dates.
RP: I saw that will mark the end of the summer with the second annual moe.down. What can fans expect from this festival?
VA: Hopefully the same type of thing as last year. Good vibes, good music and an all around good time. That is kind of what we are trying to keep with that festival. Not having any harsh vibes. Just get everybody there to see a really good festival and have really good vibes. Last year we tried to put on a festival that was a little different from your average everyday hippy fest. We had different kinds of music. We tried to keep an overall mellow vibe happening.
RP: Are you going to keep with the diversification of acts?
VA: Yeah. We don’t want to put on another Gathering of the Vibes. There already is one. Or another Berkfest. They all have great music, but have a lot of bands from the same genre and we want to spread it out more. First off you draw from a diverse crowd. Secondly, just keeps it a little more interesting. You don’t have six funk bands. We want to have something folky, something poppy, something jazzy, and something hippy. We like to mix it up.
RP: Are you guys planning on playing any other festivals outside of High Sierra or moe.down?
VA: I think that we are playing Berkfest too. I am not positive, but I think that there is an offer on the table for that. If the right festivals should come up we will probably do them.
RP: Are there any touring acts that you’ve seen under the under the umbrella of jambands that you feel are pushing in different directions and expanding the scene?
VA: Oh yeah, like Galactic they are cranking and it’s old school New Orleans funk, but now it is considered a jamband. They are amazing musicians and that expands the jamband in that direction. Then you have Soulive, who is basically a jazz combo for the most part and they are pushing it that direction. And you have us who are harder rocking and taking it in that direction. And you got String Cheese Incident who is kind of like sort of poppy world beat, bluegrassy. They are putting a whole bunch of different stuff out there and they put it in that direction. We are all lumped into the same category of music and none of the bands sound remotely alike or even play the same style of music. It is such a broad spectrum and it is like in every different direction.
RP: That is good though. It probably forces new and creative ideas?
VA: Absolutely, and I mean think of how many people are out there listening to that type of music in that broad spectrum.
RP: What do you feel is the biggest misconception about moe.?
VA: That we are nice guys. No. we are nice guys. That’s a good question. I don’t know because I don’t know exactly what people think. People, a lot of fans try to think what’s going on the inside and what we are all like. And most of the times a lot of people aren’t right. Cause we are just a bunch of normal guys that get together and play music. People think of us a certain way. When we meet fans meet us it is like, “I can’t believe I’m meeting you” this and that. Actually, I’m just a normal guy. I’ve got a wife and two kids at home just like everybody else. I’m just a middle of the road kind of a guy. I just happen to have a pretty cool job. We are all basically normal guys who get together to write music and go out and play. And have a good time doing it. That is probably it. Whatever people conceive of us, basically all we are…are normal dudes who like to play music together.
RP: Thank you very much for taking the time to answer my questions. I know that you have quite a tour going on right now. I wish you the best of luck.