moe. | 01.31.03 & 02.01.03 | La Zona Rosa | Austin, TX

In an age where styles and genres are being tossed together like so much potpourri, it's always refreshing to see a band that comes right at you with great straight-ahead rock tunes, and an accomplished sense of musicianship that allows its members to stretch out and explore onstage. With over a decade of playing under its belt and an exceptional album fresh on the shelves, moe. is doing just that in clubs and theaters across the country... and then some.

Midway through the band's current tour, moe. stopped in Austin's La Zona Rosa on January 31st and February 1st to give the sold-out Texas crowds a taste of what it's been up to since the group's last stop in the town over a year ago. As the band continues to get tighter and the production more spectacular, moe.'s five members maintain the same lighthearted stage presence that they've shared since the early 90s when they were barely filling some of the same clubs they're packing now.

The crowds are growing with good reason. A typical moe. show still boasts the loud, raucous good time that longtime fans have grown accustom to, but contains far more transcendent moments. The frontline is stacked solid, with guitarist Chuck Garvey showing the most dramatic improvement from years past. The fluid and complimentary guitar exchange between him and the always-impressive Al Schnier has been one of the critical components of moe.'s ability to give the live performance its recent surge in energy and spontaneity.

The first night started with "Understand," and omni-jovial bassist Rob Derhark's gritty vocals carried the band through the next number "The Ghost of Ralph's Mom." For the most part, the band kept the instrumentals concise and rocking during the first set, sticking to older tunes. However, they opened up the jam out of "Waiting for the Punchline," creating space for Derhark's sublime bass intro to "Recreational Chemistry," which they blew wide open to close the set.

During the setbreak each night, Lafayette, Louisiana native Marc Broussard took the stage for some two-man action with his bassist, Calvin Thomas. Broussard's playing doesn't jump out as much as his passionate, perhaps slightly-grating, vocals, but Thomas's chops on the bass were phenomenal. Although Broussard's lyricism was the focus of the duo, his non-dominating style on acoustic guitar allowed Thomas him the opportunity to let loose, and the crowd responded enthusiastically.

After a few tunes, the members of moe. joined them onstage to open up the second set with a run through "Hey Pocky Way," with Broussard sharing vocals. When moe. was left to themselves, they immediately tore into "Plane Crash." The runway lights to either side of the stage illuminated the entire room during the final refrain of the chorus, working the crowd into an almost maniacal frenzy.

The second set proved to be very exploratory, with hardly a dull moment to speak of. After giving the night's only taste of Wormwood in the Spanish-flavored lyrical narrative "Shoot First," Derhark belted the opening notes of "Captain America" which eventually segued into the electro-tropical flavor of "Bring it Back Home."

Always surprising the audience with an assortment of cover tunes, moe.'s take on Radiohead's "Karma Police" with Schnier on vocals threw many in the crowd for a loop. It was a tight rendition, but the band struggled with where to go next as Garvey showed some of his choppiest playing of the night.

However, he quickly made up for it during "Moth," as Schnier set aside his guitar to tinker around with a small keyboard setup to his right, giving Garvey the lead axe. Derhark laid it on thick, connecting with drummer Vinnie Amico to create some of the funkiest improvisation this writer has seen moe. delve into. Derhark's slapping eventually morphed into the intro to "Timmy Tucker," which closed the set.

When the band took the stage for the encore, they explained the plight of a friend undergoing major surgery without the financial means to cover the expenses. After asking the crowd to contribute whatever cash or change they could spare to the jar at the merchandise table, moe. ended the night with a spirited take on Pink Floyd's "Money."

Kicking the second night off with "St. Augustine," the first set started as a "greatest hits" showcase of sorts, with tight runs through a few of the band's older staples. After ripping through the new tune "Gone" midway through the set, the band closed the set with a sandwich of "Time Again" mashed between a meaty version "32 Things."

The band's ability to weave in and out of tunes has become one of the strongest attributes of its live performance, and moe. clearly approached the production of Wormwood with a similar mentality. Rather than simply jumping from one song to the next, the band patiently creates space to infuse gradual segues - some composed, some improvised. In both cases, the endless steam of music with its frenzied peaks and softly grooving valleys, is what gives moe. shows their remarkably energetic quality.

Like the night before, the second set started with moe. joining Broussard onstage at the end of a short setbreak duo routine. This time, they collaborated for a take on Gladys Knight and the Pips' "I Heard it Through the Grapevine," done in the soulful Marvin Gaye vein. The set moved forward in a virtually non-stop high-octane fashion with a rollicking version of "Buster," rolling downward into "Faker," one of the few cool-down moments of the night.

One of the members of Broussard's band joined percussionist Jim Loughlin for most of the set, creating an even more textured rhythm section. In the calypso-influenced "Kids," Garvey took an extended solo using his "Framptone," the guitar talk-box revolutionized by Peter Frampton, himself. The band followed with another Wormwood tune, albeit one that's been in the live rotation for some time, with the spacey groove of "Kyle's Song," which segued into a freight train version of "Head" to wind up the set.

The band gave the hometown crowd a nod with the Texas-laden lyrics of "New Minglewood Blues," a concert debut, for the encore. The tune was definitely a crowd-pleaser, but in keeping with the energy of the run moe. threw one more in for good measure with the punk classic, "I Wanna Be Sedated."

Despite praise from mainstream press and larger concert crowds, moe. holds true to the method that's carried them this far - neo-traditional craftsmanship, inspired musicianship and a playful sensibility. In doing so, they continue to grow stronger, carving themselves a unique niche in experimental rock. Their current tour continues through February 22, ending with a two-night stand at The Fillmore in San Francisco. The band also has two special appearances on the calendar, the first on March 8 at the Langerado Music Festival in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and the second on May 2 at the Orpheum Theater in New Orleans during the annual Jazz and Heritage Festival.

Words: Travis Langdon
Photos: Marcy Molitor
JamBase | Austin
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[Published on: 2/11/03]

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