Catering to hardcore fans, yet enticing new listeners to join the circle, moe. has been scheduling many two-night weekend stands across the country and somehow finds a way to outdo itself time and again. From the catchy pop sensibilities of “The Ghost of Ralph’s Mom” and the newly-discovered Tori Amos cover “Cornflake Girl,” to the deep under-sided explorations of “That Chuck Tune” and “Big World,” the boys continue to turn new corners and redefine their one-of-a-kind sound.
The formula that moe. employs is brilliant songwriting from all band members, cutting-edge setlists, and an unbridled passion that is brought to the stage every night. The moe. concert involves the building up and breaking down of a conceptual structure through an endless series of calculations, occurring in the minds of both the musicians and the listener, and manifested through the instruments and the spontaneous dance movements in the crowd. What’s truly exhilarating is the feeling that is born of this process, when something clicks, and the band is playing with an almost tangible sense of joy and accomplishment. The audience partakes in this unique experimentation and can celebrate the many collaborative moments of victory and bliss. Everybody is locked in... moe. can do no wrong.
The realization of this ideal was a certainty from the first notes of “Yodelittle” on Saturday night at the Ritz Theatre in Raleigh. As Chuck anchored down the song with his truly inspired guitar work, the North Carolina faithful were crowd surfing through a sea of balloons. A similar feeling was created on the previous Saturday night at The Tabernacle when Al won the hearts of the Atlanta crowd with a ripping version of “Mexico,” also used to ignite a legendary second set. Jim’s relentless attack, which more than occasionally now includes bass, acoustic, and xylophone complementation, brought favorites like “Kids” to new levels of energy and excitement. Vinnie was beyond flawless on drums, tying together such complex syncopations as the “So Long -> Buster” jam that with his leadership came ‘round again and again from the outer limits of our comprehension. The man behind the madness, Rob was leaving the authentic stamp of his undeniable talents all over the place, none more thrillingly than on the delicious “Opium -> She Sends Me” nugget.
Undoubtedly a culmination of unimaginable proportions, the 30-minute “Meat” encore in Raleigh was the euphoric celebration that fans and band members have longed to attain. With indescribable flair and innovation, Chuck unleashed a guitar solo that exceeded all stretches of the imagination. Showcasing techniques rarely experienced anytime anywhere, he uncorked a few measures with both hands upside down about halfway up the neck of his guitar: left hand palm DOWN, right hand underneath palm UP, all ten fingers next to each other crawling around like a caterpillar on ecstasy. With all eyes peeled to this developing metamorphosis, he crouched like a tiger, unshouldered his weapon, and played it flat on the stage a la Hendrix’s light the guitar on fire sacrificial ceremony, all the while maintaining a frantic coordination of forceful notes and spraying sweat on the moe.rons in the front row. He brought it back up for one final speed metal display, quickly took off the pulsating instrument, and placed it back in its rack, as if to prevent it from hurting someone.
The showboating continued, as Chuck worked his way around the stage, popping balloons, dancing like an ape, and climbing atop the drum set. He eventually fingered the neck of Rob’s bass for a minute or two as Vinnie, Jim, and Al kept flinging more “Meat” around the place. Things got unbearably exciting when Rob and Chuck traded guitars and worked the vicious jam for another 15 minutes or so. It happened so naturally and came off so well, one could conclude in retrospect that the instruments have a life of their own, that the switch merely made Rob and Chuck new vehicles through which the sound of “Meat” found its way to our ears.
To experience moe. time after time is to behold the infinite power that music has to shatter your preconceptions and fuel the fire of hope that burns deep within. Like the Grateful Dead was to its fans, moe. is a celebration of freedom and the authenticity of American culture. Saturday night is the time to live, love, and express these passions. The Dead sang about it to take themselves to new musical levels and to communicate with its audience that they would always be back to give them what they wanted. For the multitudes whose favorite band is moe., the band’s raging performances leave them utterly exhausted but screaming for more. Peak Saturday shows have taken place at emotional weekend gigs in Boston just days after September 11th, New York City at Thanksgiving, and Atlanta and Raleigh so far this year. It is clear that the boys are challenging themselves and their fans to dig deep and discover the joy and the pain that are buried within the realms of their improvisational music. For those who are witness to what is happening, thankfully there will always be “One moe. Saturday Night.”
Photos by Brad Robinson
JamBase | Providence
Check out moe.org for information on the band and their upcoming gigs: a weekend at Sugarloaf Mountain, Jazz Fest, and 4/20 weekend in Philly.