Moonshine Still, Stella Blue, Asheville, NC- 10/4
I guess I kind of felt like the guy who had been to this great restaurant but just hadn’t had everything that was on the menu. Having been fortunate enough to catch Moonshine Still, a burgeoning jam-thick six piece out of Macon, Ga., twice in the past year, I thought I had a pretty good grasp of what these guys were doing and were capable of. Two sets later, having gorged myself on the full range of what this band is serving up nightly, I waddled home like the guy last to leave the Thanksgiving table struggling his way to the couch, convinced I’d seen the best southern jamband nobody’s heard ofyet.
This will be fun, I’m thinking later, to be able to watch the fever spread, to watch the collective boogie lights pop on above the heads of southern (and soon surely evengaspyankee) show-goers when they get their first taste of Moonshine and quickly decide they’re gonna want more. Though they are certainly no secret in Georgia and Alabama, having sold out The Georgia Theatre and standing as a frequent fixture on Atlanta’s music scene, the band is currently stretching their radar into new realms, each time a little farther from home to include Asheville, Boone, Charleston, etc.
Watching the boogie lights pop over the floor on this night, combined with the quick realization early in the first set that these guys were playing at a much higher level than I remembered, I knew the pleasurable but simple fact that surrounds this band is that they’re definitely going to get you, period. They’ll definitely have you bent in a variety of shapes on the floor in front of the stage, they’ll hit you with mind-tilting jams, Zappa-esque gimmicks, earthy soul and smile-drenched anthems. They’ll definitely add you as a link to their growing chain of slap-happy fans spinning across the South. It’s not a question of if, just when.
Ok. So what was Asheville infected with at this show? The first set began with a drowsy, gentle intro number and the first thing that reaches out and slaps you across the face is David Shore’s guitar. Serious chops. This is just a very developed guitarist who knows he’s good and doesn’t have to force-feed ear-splitting solos down your throat to let you know he’s there. Just real patient, but real clean and numbingly effective. Into “The Carpet Cleaners,” a blatantly sexual, slow-bouncing tune that will peel smiles across your face to the song’s “Put one leg over my shoulder/make that two legs to be complete” lyrics. Here again, Shore sits slyly below and then surfaces with short and powerful guitar salvos that tempt your brain to liquify and spill out of your ears before he later settles in with the band and launches an elongated soulful expedition.
Another thing becomes quickly apparent here. Six people on stage can easily be too much in the jamband world, where often many bands allow any of their friends that have ever played anything on stage, usually just making things really noisy. Not the case here. Moonshine is incredibly tight and full, especially taking in the highly technical nature of many of their songs. Keeping a train that size on the tracks, at such speed, and still keeping the passengers blissfully happy is something, and these guys seem to be doing it almost effortlessly and having a damn good time during the whole trip.
Scott Baston’s lead vocals are deep and impressive, his range is noteworthy but his power lies in the soulful grip he delivers his notes from. Falling into a comfy groove now, the band sounding as one for a good ten minutes, no solos, no showcasing, just groove, a lost art (do bands do this anymore?), I’m drunk from my neck bobbing in funky time. Slumped deep into my velvety vibe couch with the band, not really wanting to get up, I’m struck with Moonshine’s rhythm section. Ray Petren’s subtle but strong at bass, Bill Jarrett is the perfect complement on percussion, then there the’s drummer. Geesh. Will Robinson is straight-up ill on the kit, in an incredibly good way. He’s ridiculous, not in the Alex Van Halen side but more towards the Stanton Moore, Jon Fishman world. Ill. He’ll lay down song structures with maddening pace, moving from funk and groove to more traditional rock never really playing too loud or seemingly caring if you know he’s back there, just flawless for the entire damn show. Oh yeah, he sings a bunch too.
Now into the Talking Heads’ “Nothing But Flowers.” (they also offered up Santana’s “Fried Neckbones” during sound check) Nice, who covers that? Again, Robinson sets up an incredibly fast foundation the guys immediately run with, and I’m looking for a weak link and am simply denied. It’s nice to see a group that knows how to jam, that doesn’t launch into 20-minute disasters just to say they did it. The patience these guys use and the interplay that you can see lobbing across the stage like a tennis match, makes these jams real strong and fun to listen to. This band’s greatest asset, it seems, is that it’s a band, not a lead guitarist and friends. Transitions from songs into others are seamless, a sign that the guys have been around each other awhile, they reek of familiarity with each other’s style and tendencies.
The band ran through original compositions “Nightcap at the Laundromat,” “The Consequence,” “In the Trees” and covered “Terrapin Station,” easily morphing from a collective sound to Shore stepping up and bullwhipping the crowd with more guitar, backed by the group. This guy’s style is hard to finger, you can hear his influences depending on the mood he’s in, but he seems to shuffle through them, pulling a little something from each and stamping his own mark over it. There’s definitely some Trey on the groove numbers, the darker but thick and funky, slower solos, and definitely some Duane Allman on the soulful, cloud-piercing end, but most of it is just him, adding a fresh voice from a guitar sure to be around for a long while. He seems to work best throughout the jams with Trippe Wright, tying knots in that air only to untie them with the band’s keyboardist, another invaluable asset this band holds over most.
So there I am, waddling home, “full up” as we say in the South, with that blind, satisfied gaze across my eyes. Moonshine Still is coming, and they’re coming with ziploc-tight jams, great original songs and heavy musicianship (manguitarbut that damn drummer hurt me). My boogie light is blown, I’m gonna go find another so I can catch these guys in Boone next week, I have no doubt I’ll see the rest of you somewhere along the way. You’ll be there eventually. Not if, but when
Ben Williamson is a freelance music journalist waddling somewhere around Asheville with his hyperactive German Shepard “Dizzy.”