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Published: 2003/01/29
by Tom Baker

moe., The Tabernacle, Atlanta, GA- 1/24

When the five guys named moe. (okay, so it was guitarist / vocalist Chuck Garvey, bassist / vocalist Rob Derhak, guitarist / vocalist Al Schnier, drummer Vinnie Amico, and percussionist Jim Loughlin) took the stage at Atlanta's Tabernacle with Ween's "Voodoo Lady" blasting over the house speakers, it was appropriate enough accompaniment. The halfway (if even that much) serious vibe of a band like Ween is probably a decent enough frame of reference from which to approach this quintet. But while there is a certain element of the tongue-in-cheek about moe., the jamming jesters tag, like most convenient labels, only tells part of the story. moe. certainly knows how to play, both with their instruments and the audience, but all of the jokiness and jamming in the world aren't worth a lot without some good song structures to hang it all on. Fortunately, moe. has plenty of good songs, too.

The limber, amiable "Spine of a Dog" got things off to a nice start for the chilly crowd, with the harmonizing of Garvey, Derhak, and Schnier leading the audience into a singalong of the tune’s bouncy chorus. Getting a venue several hundred miles from your home base to sing along to your songs has got to feel good, and it was early proof that moe.‘s patient efforts at cultivating a fanbase are starting to pay off. Keeping the mood loose, Derhak (wearing a Mike Vick football jersey) stepped forward when "Mexico" reached its traditional pause to give the crowd his Super Bowl pick (his prescient take: Tampa Bay by nine).

The band’s nimble compositions proved more than sturdy enough for Garvey and Schnier to play at will, and the two guitarists spent the bulk of the evening joyriding a chassis built from Derhak’s casually excellent bass work and the able support of Amico and Loughlin. A parade of cascading, waterfall-like solos from Garvey displayed a grab bag of influences from Phish to the Cult as the first set continued through "Stranger Than Fiction" and "She Sends Me" before wrapping up with "Not Coming Down" > "Rebubula."

The second set took a little longer to get off the ground, with moe. starting a long climb through "Jazz Wank" > "Buster" > "Yodelittle" before reprising "Not Coming Down." A bit of energy was lost here, but the band still managed to navigate this stretch impressively. When they wrapped up "Not Coming Down," they seemed to look at each other with a real sense of joy and enthusiasm, as if they were almost overawed at having pulled it off. That sort of honesty and true emotion is a rare enough thing to see onstage. These guys are having fun, and it shows.

As it turned out, they were just warming up for the set-closing stretch run of "Brent Black" > "Meat." The latter tune, while classic moe., is a bit problematic thanks to its epic lengthforty-minute songs veer precariously close to self-parody—and perhaps this take crested and broke one time too many. An encore cover of Aerosmith’s "Sweet Emotion" wrapped up the night, and while the tune was well-played, it was hard to tell if the cover was designed as a joke or a heartfelt tribute. No matter; not everything needs to be explained, and the play’s the thing anyway.

The overriding impression of moe. at this stage in their career is that of a band that has just completed one journey and is poised to begin a new one. moe. has finished the long climb from obscurity to a position of some prominence; now they are ready to go for more, and all signs seem to point to more widespread success if they want it. The sufficiently warmed up Tabernacle crowd had no complaints; by the time the show wrapped, the audience had gotten what it came forcheekiness and chops, and an abundance of both.

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