Catching a moe. show back East is a pilgrimage every West coast fan should make. As The Slip's Brad Barr attests to in “Take a Beetle to the Badlands,” ‘To the people on the East coast, in the land I love the most, go ahead and deserve to boast, talking about mmm...'
With dense populations, close proximity between major metropolitan areas and the ease of movement allowed to fans by the rail system, bands understandably love touring the East coast.
Combine this with lead singer and bassist Rob Derhak’s very public phobia of air travel, and one understands why moe. doesn’t make it out West very often (although they are blessing us with a solid February tour). My holiday plans found me in New York for Christmas, and a quick hop on the rails got me from Penn Station to Philly.
The Tower Theater recently underwent a 1 million dollar renovation project. But besides a few galactic murals inside, I didn’t notice much difference from the last time I was at the venue, for the spectacular Trey Anastasio Band show in February at which point he delighted the crowd with an acoustic “Strange Design,” debuted “Small Axe” and foreshadowed Mike’s collaboration with Leo Kottke when he dropped his name as “The second best tuner to ever play the guitar.”
I guess I had high expectation for the show.
After Particle’s high-energy opening set (which was way better then the band’s recent Roxy show), moe. took the stage to raucous applause from the mostly-young crowd. There were older moerons in the Theater as well, but they were the minority. However, it was great to see younger fans in the house and pumped for moe. As a whole, the scene in Philadelphia is vibrant, and showed much love to the bands and other visitors in town for the shows.
I doubt any of the people at the gig were disappointed. The first set meandered a bit at the start but kicked into high-gear for back–to-back capsules of “Not Coming Down > Okayalright" followed by "Spine Of a Dog > Buster." Good stuff, indeed. The versions weren’t the best I’ve heard, but they were more than decent. The band was mellow and relaxed. Some girls in the front threw Rob a pink boa and a "Groundskeeper Willie" wig and hat, which he modeled for a little bit, until the boa interfered with his bass strings and he tossed it to the side.
Al Schnier has appeared a few times with Particle, and I had a notion that keyboardist Steve Molitz would come out for the second set. Instead, a third guitar was placed on the stage and Charlie Hitchcock from Particle joined the band. This seemed odd, as with two guitars already going full bore, there isn’t much space for a third. Hitchcock took a position between Rob and Chuck and added his pyrotechnics to “Happy Hour Hero,” a song that Trey Anastasio sat in on at the post-jammy’s show. As the song stretched on, Hitchcock took more solos and grew more confident. It appeared to be some kind of initiation, like the guys were saying, “How long can you go rookie?”
In essence, moe. was showing Hitchcock how to play within the jam. They also kept going, segueing into “Seat of My Pants,” after many, many teases by Chuck and Rob that Al chose to ignore. If you’ve never seen Rob glare at Al when the band is trying to go into another song (when Al is in his own world, his fingers flying all around his guitar or twisting knobs with a funny grin on his face, in a trance) you haven’t experienced the true essence of moe.
Once Al decided to start singing, “Seat of My Pants” took off. Chuck Garvey was turned up loud the entire second set and was bringing the heat, at one point even standing on a chair placed on the side of the stage.
To up the ante even more, “Seat of My Pants” segued into “Sensory Deprivation Bank.” Hitchcock didn’t blow me away, but he did hold his own. Nearly an hour after walking onstage with moe., Hitchcock sauntered off the stage to the side. The band recognized his abilities, commenting that they had planned to do one song, “in the key of A” and that things just kind of happened. “I’d piss myself if someone did that to me,” Rob said.
Maybe feeling a bit frisky, Hitchcock briefly reappeared onstage for “Bullet,” but then disappeared again.
Vinnie and Jim kept a solid rhythm all night on drums and percussion. They don’t get as much credit as they deserve, but they are selfless, and this is why they play so well.
After wrapping up with "Kyle > Timmy Tucker," the band had to hustle through its encore and played the radio version of “Captain America.”
Apologizing for the short encore, the guys thanked everyone for coming out, and promised more surprises for the following night. And from all accounts, the next night was hot hot hot!
Words and Images by Forrest Reda
JamBase | West Coast
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