Review & Photos | moe.down 15 | Turin
moe.down :: 8.29.14 -8.31.14 :: Snow Ridge Ski Resort :: Turin, NY
Check out Bill’s review after the gallery
Home is certainly where the heart is, and for many music fans who call themselves moe.rons, home -over Labor Day Weekend -is in the tiny, upstate New York ski town of Turin. For the third year in a row, Buffalo based progressive jamband moe. hosted moe.down, their annual jamboree of good music, family and friends at Snow Ridge Ski Resort. moe.down is now in its 15th year of existence – including two years when the event was held at another mountain -but let’s not get into that. We were blessed with beautiful weather throughout most of the weekend, then doused with a few downpours over night on Saturday -after the music ended -and overcast skies on Sunday. JamBase was on hand and is thrilled to bring you this review and photos.
Depending on your musical taste, you could be disappointed that the Rich Robinson Band pulled out of their slot at the last minute. For many, however, a chance to hear and see a second set from Lotus could only come as a welcome surprise, and they were an excellent choice to get moe.rons out from there campsites and in front of the main stage under the late afternoon dusk. Opener “Grayrigg” featured the soaring guitars of Luke Miller and Mike Rempel, dueling off one another in much the same way that moe.’s guitars do. And on “Wooly Mammoth” the music was far more melodic and harmonious, dulcet you might even call it. And then there was “Cannons In The Heavens” and “128” -the first featuring looped rapping and lyrics and a much more electronic, dance-oriented sound that got the enthusiastic crowd moving and swaying, while the latter featured fuzz-laden guitar and synthesized electronic samples and beats. Set closer “In An Outline” found the band providing more rock-oriented sounds, featuring pulsating bass and swirling keyboards. Lotus continues to impress each time out.
moe. took the stage on Friday night and lit the mountainside on fire. With a simple “Cheers moe.down, it’s good to see you all,” from guitarist Al Schnier, the band got off to a bit of a false start -a musical sound check if you will -teasing fans with the intro to “Bullet,” and then with a simple rat-a-tat-tat beat from drummer Vinnie Amico, the band moved into “Meat” as if it were a planned transition. These transitions are a bit of a calling card for the upstate New York group, something they do best, if not better than most any band on the scene.
Another pleasant surprise in this first moe. set of the weekend was the bust out of their cover of Cracker’s “Low,” with Schnier’s twangy vocals eerily similar in tone to David Lowery’s. With a simple bass role from Rob Derhak, the band followed his lead out of “Don’t Fuck With Flo” right into the long-standing fan favorite “Timmy Tucker.” The song ebbed and flowed with thundering, heavy bass and guitar fills from Chuck Garvey. This song is quintessential moe., with wailing guitars mixed with congruent xylophone harmonies from percussionist Jim Loughlin, and multiple highs and lows of musical tones that build to a cascading dissonance of guitars. Closing the set where it began, the band segued from “Faker” back into “Meat,” then encored with “Spine Of A Dog” and “Seat of My Pants,” sending fans back to our camps for the evening.
On Saturday morning fans awoke to cerulean skies and warm temps and festi-fans had a plethora of choices for the day, beginning with a lovely roots-rock laced set from American Babies. Fronted by former Brothers Past front man Tom Hamilton, the set opened with a BP number, “State Police,” that substituted howling electric guitar and dense organ swells for the former version’s electronic and sampled elements. With a bright yellow sun beaming down, the crowd began to fill in front of the side stage and the band moved into a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Tangled Up in Blue” that found an animated Adam Flicker, lit cig dangling from his lips, right hand leaning heavily on his keys, a twisted torso with a left arm stretched out behind him in the air as he played. “They Sing Old Time Religion” saw the band stretching out and improvising with organ swells and a steady rhythm holding it all together. Hamiton’s baby has certainly fully matured, and finds this band writing and performing some wonderful music.
Conehead Buddha is another upstate New York band that has a history as long as moe.’s and as such the two bands have had a familial connection. They’re a horn-heavy ska band, tempered with Latin and afro-Cuban rhythms. They opened their set in a strong fashion, with the trilogy of songs that ended their 1996 album, I Want To Be Like You: the oh so funky “Leaving The Brothel,” the reggae-tinged “Swedish Girls” and the horn-soaked “Smiling.” A crowd gathered, enticed by the funky, upbeat tunes emanating from the stage; a mixed audience of older locals familiar with the band and younger kids just waking and eager to get their bodies moving. The sibling harmonies between Shannon and Terry Lynch were apparent on many of the band’s older songs, but also on newer material. The soulful ode to a loved one, “Must Be You,” featured the two on vocal harmonies, while on the title track “Present Perfect” the horns blew harmoniously in time, then gave way to a trumpet and guitar solo. The jazzy funk of Conehead Buddha is far too groovy to go under appreciated – look up this band if you don’t know them yet.
The chance to see and hear Matt Butler conduct an Everyone Orchestra performance is something that every music-loving fan should experience. This is the epitome of jam and improvisational music – with sets made up from scratch and Butler orchestrating from in front, a hand-held white board on which he offers notes of suggestion to everyone, band members individually or as a whole group and to the crowd – as his face lights up in jubilation with his every move. He’ll ask one member to start a song – as he did with Danny Louis of Gov’t Mule on keys early in the set. A nod in the direction of drummer Cody Dickinson (North Missippi Allstars) and bassist Andrew Altman (Railroad Earth) draws a steady rhythm. Then, he’ll turn to the horns – today’s horn section courtesy of the aforementioned Conehead Buddha -and coax melodies from them. With a wave of his hand he’d direct guitar solos from either Al Schnier (moe.) or John Kadlecik (Furthur) or a duet between one or the other with a sweet fiddle solo from Allie Kral (Cornmeal, Yonder Mountain).
At any given point he’d invite the crowd to sing along in participation, as he did when he sang out, “moe.down EO,” and then waved his hands to encourage the crowd to call it out in unison. No single EO performance is ever repeated; you’ll never know what you’ll get, nor will the musicians know how or what they’ll play, as it’s made up on the spot. That’s the beauty of improvisational music and Matt Butler is a master orchestrator.
While we’re on the subject of no one single performance ever being the same how about Les Claypool! His Duo De Twang performance with old friend Bryan Kehoe was original and lively. Les is also one funny cat, joking along with audience members throughout the performance. This band’s version of the Primus classic “Wynonna’s Big Brown Beaver” found him pounding out a rhythm with his foot on a percussive instrument hidden behind a campfire log. And his bass playing style didn’t change as noted on the slaphappy run though “Amos Moses.” Kehoe slid his fingers up and down a steel guitar, sometimes with a slide, and he bellowed out with a clear and loud vocal howl when Claypool called upon him. And it’s guaranteed that you’ve never heard the disco era hit “Stayin’ Alive” played with a country twang and hollow body guitars. The crowd was dancing more of a loose Do-Si-Do than a Saturday Night Fever swirl, that’s for sure.
moe. performed three sets on Saturday, including a mid-afternoon set that saw a parade of kids, friends and families of moe.down join the band on stage to dance along on “Billy Goat.” Later, the headliners performed two sets that featured quite a bit more improvisation. Opener “Yodelittle,” for instance, stretched out for longer than twenty minutes. Garvey and Schnier were in fine vocal form, scatting and yodeling, trading leads on guitar back and fourth. Schnier welcomed The Conehead Buddha Horns to the stage, and they stayed for the rest of the first set and most of the second set. A couple of stand outs included “Mexico,” with Shannon Lynch adding a soaring sax solo, that segued seamlessly into “Akimbo” with the three horns (sax, trombone and trumpet) adding layered jazzy fills.
Please allow for a personal moe.ment of bliss. The highlight of the weekend for this moe. fan came as the band closed out the first of two late sets with a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out.” This passionate music fan is a life-long fan of The Boss, so when the horns blew out the first notes, “Baaaaa daaa da, daa da daaa da da, baaa da da da daaa ….” to say this old man was out of his skull would certainly be an understatement, that’s for sure. Schnier gave a stirring vocal performance, barreling out Springsteen’s classic lyrics with a gruff and gritty tone, while the horns blew out the melodies with utter precision. Happiness is…a favorite band, joined by a horn section, playing a favorite song by a favorite artist. Thank you moe. and Conehead Buddha Horns. Done!
The late moe. set began with one of the band’s newer songs, “Silver Sun,” released recently on their newest studio disc, No Guts, No Glory. This is moe. at their psychedelic best, weaving twirling guitar tones and pulsating marimba notes through bellowing musical peaks that rose then dropped dramatically in timbre. There’s elements of both Pink Floyd and the Grateful Dead to be found in this number. The added horns on “Brittle End” and to the Black Sabbath classic “The Wizard,” certainly make both songs even more menacing, the latter sounding as though it was written for this lineup. The group closed out the set with the moe. original “Plane Crash” featuring the added horn intro as recorded on the Tin Cans and Car Tires CD. Again, the added horn fills gave an already ominous tune a further foreboding tone, with all three horn players each taking a solo turn. moe. encored – sans the horn section now – with a spirited run through “Jazz Wank” that segued into “Hava Nagila” and that into “Long Island Girls Rule,” and we were done for Saturday night! Phew, I know!
The rain came heavy late Saturday evening or early Sunday morning, depending on your own point of view. But by mid afternoon the storm had passed, we were left with overcast skies and it was time again to celebrate with some great music. Highlights began late in the afternoon, with Floodwood on the side stage. This band formed more than three years ago, with their first performance happening on this very stage. Floodwood is a side project for moe. guitarist Schnier and drummer Amico, and an opportunity for Schnier to showcase his more rootsy, Americana laced songs that might not have a place in the moe. canon. It’s also a great outlet to showcase the fine musical styles of Jason Barady and Nick Piccininni and their deft and dulcet playing on mandolin and banjo. The newgrass song “Roll On” got the set started with an upbeat and infectious melody that immediately got feet shuffling. “Revolving Door” featured Schnier on vocals with lovely banjo accompaniment. The sweet and lovely “Magnolia Road” saw Piccininni handle lead vocals with soothing harmonies on acoustic guitar and backing vocals from Schnier. And their cover of the Grateful Dead classic “Cumberland Blues” highlighted fine dual vocal harmonies of Barady and Schnier, as well as the melodious picking and strumming harmonies on stringed instruments. It’s disappointing this band isn’t able to tour more often.
Aqueous is another young, talented and up-and-coming improv rock band from the upstate New York area. The band has played up at the down in years past and came this year with a regional draw and devoted fans. “Strange Times” put dual vocals and guitars of Mike Gantzer and Dave Loss front and center, as they traded verses vocally back and fourth, and then lead and harmony guitars as well. The rocking instrumental “Gordon’s Mule” segued into a blazing guitar wail of Rick James’ “Below The Funk,” which featured dual electric guitars that just oozed funk. They ended the set with the progressive rock instrumental “All In” that found the rhythm section of Evan McPhaden (bass) and Ryan Nogle (drums) banging and thumping furiously and aggressively. Rock music this good won’t stay underground for long – catch this band now if you have the chance.
moe. closed out the weekend with two strong sets, filled with staples from the band’s live repertoire. Fans were shuffling in to the hill slope in front of the stage as the band began “Paper Dragon.” A deep resonating rumble of the bass drum with Amico pounding on his kit signaled the intro to “Water,” one of the group’s most popular live songs that had the fans singing along in unison on the chorus, and moe. kept things moving through “Hectors Pillow” and “Four.” They closed out the first set with a country-tinged, long jam through “32 Things,” with Garvey drawing several fast, wailing solos from his instrument. And lastly, the moe.ment fans had been waiting for. On Facebook, the band held a contest to reach 100,000 likes on Facebook, which was achieved just before the festival was to begin. As a result, fans had an opportunity to choose one, long-lost song that the band hadn’t played in years to be performed at the festival. moe. closed out the set with the fans’ choice, “Canned Pastries.” “This next song is a dance number,” said Schnier by way of introducing the long-lost instrumental, which hadn’t been played since August of 1994. With a rolling bass and guitar wails, this one indeed got fans dancing on the slopes – well, that and maybe some added substances.
The band saved some of their best for the last set, as they rolled through a dark take on “Big World” > “Ricky Martin” and then completed an awesome transition into “Time Ed.” Again, that moe.ment – and it was really just a second’s rest between the two songs – …where are they going with this?…oh bam, there it is…that always draws a huge cheer of recognition and appreciation from the aroused crowd. Two of the group’s most popular live songs, “Time Ed” > “Moth,” accounted for more than 40 minutes of live, improvisational bliss that oozed from the band out over the trailside filled with fans that ate it up and enjoyed it to maximum effect. Derhak decided to grab a seat atop an amplifier while he played, where he sat perched for a good twenty minutes, rumbling through bass lines with ease. As if there was any doubt, the mayor of moe.ville this year went to Rex Thomson, a jam scene photographer who has been attending moe.down for many of the 15 years if not all, and has ached to win the fan-voted award. This is your year Rex, congratulations. The band brought the festival to a close with one long, last jam through “Rebubula,” a highly energetic rocker that always gets the crowd singing along in unison on its chorus of “Rip off all my limbs, poke out both my eyes, pull out my swollen tongue, and the sirens song, sweetly sucks me down, I’ll find my way back to you.”
It was another excellent year up at the down! Home is where the heart is. Sure that may be a cliché, but there are those of us – moe.rons – for whom this weekend just wouldn’t be the same if we weren’t able to spend it here in Turin, NY. moe.down! My Home, My Heart, My Best Friends!
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