moe. & Keller Williams | 8.16.03 | Universal Lending (City Lights) Pavilion Denver, CO
It was a pleasant surprise when visiting Aussie, Xavier Rudd warmed up the crowd with his one-man show and early comers made him feel welcome. Rudd employs a mix of acoustic guitar, didgeridoo and various percussion for a tribal sound that, coupled with his strong vocals, reminded me a bit of Dave Matthews.
It was a bit odd seeing two solo artists back-to-back, but there was Keller Williams amidst his traveling studio of instruments doing his best one man impersonation of a band. Williams' sly use of loops enables him to build layers of rhythm with electric guitar, bass, guitar synthesizer, organ, and percussion. He is an extremely articulate guitar player that can fuse bluegrass, jazz, rock and tribal sounds with an amazing sense of lyrical fun. Williams is touring to support his latest album, Home, which is a solo musical effort of live favorites and new compositions.
Part of Williams' charm is his smart selection of cover songs. This night was no exception as covers like The Grateful Dead's "Jack a Row" and "Birdsong," "Sugar Hill Gang's "Rapper's Delight," Pink Floyds' "The Wall," Paul Simon's "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes" and the BeeGee's "Night Fever" found their way into the setlist. That type of musical diversity may leave some hippie kids scratching their heads but it speaks to Williams's eclectic roots and his willingness to take risks for the sake of a good time.
Plenty of instrumentals peppered Williams's single set, many of which featured five or six instrument loops that provided a rich orchestra of beats for the numerous dancers in the pavilion tent. Fan favorites, "Kidney in a Cooler" and "Freaker by the Speaker" were played towards the end of his set.
moe. came on stage around ten o'clock for what turned out to be almost a two and half hour set, a somewhat surprising length given the two warm up sets. After working my way closer to the stage, I was treated to a recreation of Marilyn Monroe singing happy birthday to President Kennedy. It turned out that it was bassist, Rob Derhak's birthday, which was cause for his serenade. Guitarists Al Schnier and Chuck Garvey, wearing their party hats, then proceeded to burst into "Rebubula" with all of its grandeur and xylophone solos. The band then segued into a competently-played but not spectacular "Spine of a Dog," followed by a very engaging "Understand<" that, with some very memorable jamming, was a highlight of the set.
"New York City" has long been a crowd favorite and the band blew it up. It also gave the birthday boy, Derhak, another opportunity to deliver a chorus or two. Keller Williams joined the band for a rendition of The Band's classic song, "The Weight." As Williams was leaving the stage, moe. spontaneously composed what was described as the Keller Williams TV theme song, egging him on to prance around for a yuk. With levity out of the way, a heavy version of "Meat" with enough guitar pyrotechnics to light your head on fire was followed by a trippy, top notch "Kyle's Song" that included teases of "Third Stone from the Sun." These last two songs treated the audience to an epic instrumental jam that lasted about a half hour. The bouncy fun of "Yodelittle" was topped off by a majestic and spacey "Rebubula" reprise to end the set.
moe.'s encore began with a tease of AC/DC's "You Shook Me All Night Long" that never really got the band's attention and quickly petered out. "Okayalright" closed the evening out. The ten-song setlist included two songs from their latest release, Wormwood, with the rest of the set pulled somewhat equally from their discography.
A quick survey of moe.rons in the audience indicated that this show was a solid outing and I had to agree. The playing was tight as usual, and the sound was better than I expected from this relatively new venue that was essentially a big top tent on a parking lot. I have to note that the air-conditioned bathrooms at this venue were a first in my concert going career.
moe. is definitely on the threshold of breaking it big. Their sound may owe a nod to more established contemporaries such as Phish or Widespread Panic but their artistry and song writing make them distinct. This type of comparison seems inevitable in the jam scene and is probably one that the guys in moe. are tired of hearing. They've been earning their stripes with legendary live shows built from a highly varied song styles and jam interludes that touch on jazz, Caribbean, funk, country and heavy metal. When they do break into a jam, they leave listeners wanting mo(r)e.
Words by: Haig Assadourian
Images by: Tony Stack
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