At just about 9:20 p.m. on Friday night, a spotlight shined on Rob Derhak’s bass which was set up in the middle of The Capitol Theatre stage in Port Chester, New York. moe. then emerged to play their first show since July 28, 2017. The band had been on indefinite hiatus, while Derhak fought a victorious battle against cancer. Fans from across the country assembled at The Cap to welcome the quintet back and they made the initial concert of their latest era one those moe.rons in the house and watching from home won’t ever forget. Kung Fu opened with a strong set in which drummer Adrian Tramontano sported a “welcome back rob!” t-shirt and was highlighted by a free-wheeling “The Get Down.”
All five members of moe. took a few minutes after coming out on stage to take in the moment. Derhak looked especially pleased to see a banner that was hung off the venue’s balcony reading, “welcome back, rob!” The bassist then spoke for the band and for himself. “Thanks folks. I guess you’re not going to get rid of me that easy,” Rob said. “Shit, jesus, I don’t know. Thank you so much, guys. The overwhelming amount of love and support that I got, made it very easy for me to do what I did. So I credit everybody here and elsewhere, thank you so much.”
Next, moe. stood for a picture taken by Jay Blakesberg and then strapped on their instruments and began one of their most beloved songs, “Rebubula.” The energy at The Cap when moe. took the stage was joyous, as the capacity crowd showered Rob and the rest of the band with love. Guitarist Chuck Garvey spent a few minutes building to the actual start of “Rebubula,” a tune debuted at Wetlands Preserve (another venue owned at one time by The Cap’s Peter Shapiro, who towards the end of the night awarded a medal to Derhak) in 1994 that has been performed over 600 times. moe. went on to play a full “Rebubula” to open the show, the first time they’ve done so since November 1, 2014.
The crowd reacted to all of “Rebubula’s” key moments such as when Garvey and fellow guitarist Al Schnier connected on their first double lead, when Rob sang the first lyric, when the jam started and when Derhak belted “Find my way back to you” and “East Coast mama.” Derhak seemed much thinner than the last time he was on stage, but his voice was strong and his instrumental skills were still on point. If he had any struggles, he appeared to have to focus more on singing and playing at the same time than in the past. While moe. didn’t perform every tune perfectly, there wasn’t too much rust to shake off. As the night progressed the quintet seemed more comfortable and the instrumental sections were more cohesive.
moe.’s first set back focused on classic material. Outside of the debut of the Schnier-penned “What Should I Say” the five other tunes performed were first played during the period between 1992 and 1997 – the era in which moe. grew from a local Buffalo band to a nationally-touring act. “Rebubula” featured a pretty MalletKAT solo from Jim Loughlin and an intense guitar solo via Garvey.
“Rebubula” gave way to “Akimbo,” which was sung with swagger by Chuck. Garvey and Schnier swapped licks throughout a song that has more in common with the sound of the Ramones than the Grateful Dead. Derhak then stepped into the spotlight once again to slap the bass figure that begins “32 Things.” Al sang the self-referencing song with passion and spirit. Chuck then engaged in a call-and-response sequence with Loughlin on marimba. Jim, often referred to as moe.’s secret weapon, showed he hasn’t lost a step as his arms flailed at incredible speed to bang out anthemic melodies. Schnier had an assist from a fan during his “32 Things” solo. An audience member in the front row named Allen asked for Al’s guitar and was given it. However, Allen was more content to just hold the guitar than play it, so thankfully Schnier took his axe back quickly. “I thought we were having a moment,” Al said of Allen at the end of “32 Things.”
“What Can I Say” was the first of the evening’s two debuts. moe. has picked up where they left off when it comes to new material as both songs had their signature ’70s rock sound. The band seemed particularly enthused to perform the new tunes. Friday’s first set concluded with a pairing of fan favorites: “Spine Of A Dog” and “Plane Crash.” The former was another throwback to the days where the group drew more inspiration from Camper Van Beethoven and The Clash than the Grateful Dead and The Band. Sometime in the late ’90s, “Spine Of A Dog” transformed from a five-minute, rradio-friendly ditty to a springboard for improvisation. The version at The Cap was a jam-heavy affair featuring some of Chuck’s best work of the night. “Plane Crash” received the biggest reaction from the audience outside of “Rebubula” and turned into a singalong, especially during the tune’s “Too fucking high” chorus. It should also be noted the lights and projections were on point all night, with “Plane Crash” a particular highlight. Al took his time building his “Plane Crash” solo to a massive, crowd-pleasing peak.
moe.’s second set back started with a near 20-minute version of “Silver Sun,” a song first performed by the five-piece on December 4, 2010 as part of their “The Electric Lemoe.nade Acid Test” Halloween (it’s a long story, but essentially the concert was postponed from October to December) show in Albany. “Silver Sun” features everything that makes moe. moe. from storytelling, to impressive musicianship, to open-ended segments with spots for solos and full-band jamming and double leads that would make The Allman Brothers Band proud. Al’s song also displays his many influences from the Dead to Pink Floyd to Talking Heads to The Allmans.
The second song of the closing stanza was the evening’s final new original, Derhak’s “LL3.” Rob’s new original picks up where “The Pit” left off and features lyrics that seem to hint at his cancer experience including, “Before you’re done you will realize what it takes to stay alive. Countdown to the final bell and then you’re forgiven.” Rob’s bassline used within the instrumental portion of “LL3” was particularly inventive as it contained a similar groove and soul as the bassline from Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean.”
moe. ended the set with a wild “Moth” > “Captain America” > “Hector’s Pillow” > “Moth” > “meat.” > “Moth” sequence that spanned 45 minutes. Schnier led the group through the beginning of “Moth” and when the five-piece reached the part of the song where Al usually takes a moment to share a thought, Derhak sang the first lyric of “Captain America.” Away moe. went with the opening track from their 2001 studio album, Dither. Both Rob and Chuck shined on “Captain America,” which is another tune that features the best of what makes moe. moe. “Captain America” eventually gave way to the guitar-fueled, Zappa-esque “Hector’s Pillow.” Garvey’s solo was latin-tinged and when it was over, the quintet went into the chorus of “Moth.” It was then time for the “Moth” jam and after a few minutes Derhak took over and started slapping his bass. The rest of the band dropped out, leaving Rob to formally start “meat.”
While “meat.” can span as long as an hour or more, and the band famously recorded a 45-minute version in 1996 during their major label days, the version at The Cap was “only” 20 minutes. The improvisational highlight of the night was the “Moth” jam and all of “meat.” moe. showed they haven’t lost their edge and had fans on the edge of their seats throughout. Al and Chuck have such different styles, yet compliment each other so well. Garvey’s intense and powerful “meat.” solo was augmented nicely by layers of slide-infused rhythms provided by Schnier. A section of “meat.” led by Loughlin on MalletKAT and powered by drummer Vinnie Amico was another standout of the best section of the night. Rob also had his turn to solo and mixed funky slapping with pretty melodies. Schnier utilized a Garcia-esque MuTron tone for the final “meat.” solo and he had the crowd eating out of the palm of his hand.
“meat.” came to a close, but moe. wasn’t done yet and neither was “Moth.” The band closed out “Moth” after having split the song into three segments over the course of the set. When moe. returned to the stage for the encore, Schnier continued a tradition of “Al.nouncements,” which included shout-outs to fans celebrating their 100th (and in some cases 252) shows, birthday wishes and notes about moe.rons who had traveled a long distance to see the band. moe. then lit into “Wind It Up,” a perfect song for their first encore back with its chorus of “Be on my side, I’ll be on your side.” The emotions during “Wind It Up” made the hair stand up on the back of some audience members’ necks. On Saturday, moe. returns to The Capitol Theatre with a webcast available via nugs.tv.
Just about six months ago Rob Derhak was diagnosed with cancer and told his band mates of his condition soon thereafter. It’s not hard to blame the band for thinking that perhaps when they started their indefinite hiatus on July 28, 2017 they would never return with Derhak on bass. Thankfully, through Rob’s hard work, the support of his fans, friends, family and band mates and his medical team, Derhak is cancer-free. On Friday, moe. was able to start putting the scary situation in the rear-view mirror and the band members played with a level of excitement and joy that comes with knowing the future of your 25-year-old group was in doubt. moe. is back and here’s hoping the future remains bright.
Set One: Rebubula > Akimbo, 32 Things, What Can I Say (new Al original), Spine Of A Dog > Plane Crash
Set Two: Silver Sun, LL3 (new Rob original), Moth > Captain America > Hector’s Pillow > Moth > meat. > Moth
Encore: Wind It Up