moe., The Orpheum, Boston, MA 11/7
For me, moe. is an autumnal band. That's not to say I don't listen throughout the year; it simply happens that their mix of humor and angst, nostalgia and innovation becomes infectious around the end of August, and lingers in my brain for many months to come. It also happens that the moe. shows on my calendar always seem to correspond with that infection. So it was with a great desire to scratch that annual itch that I descended in the police-state-turned-concert-venue known as the Orpheum. Over the course of the second set alone I watched close to a dozen people being thrown out for smoking, disregarding security's demands to remain seated, and simply getting down to the music. The security were some of the worst I've ever seen; I saw a kid get his leg broken by yellow jackets at Giants' Stadium in 1991, and that was worse, but that's about it. These were as stereotypical a team of pathetic power-trippers as possible, and a pox on the evening. I regret that I'll be returning to venue in just a few weeks for the Phil Lesh Quintet, but certainly I will try to avoid the theater thereafter. Now onto the music.
While the show was characterized by segues and pairings, the first set opened with a very strong triplet of stand alones (the fact that they were three favorites was an added bonus). Okayalright jumpstarted the festivities with a shot of high energy, and some slick, tubed vocal fills from chuck. Gone was one of the heaviest versions in my experience, with a dash of spacey noodly at the outset, a weighty, dramatic solo, also from Mr. Garvey, and an emphatic final chorus from the whole band. Nebraska rounded out the trifecta, and cleared the way for the heartier substance of night’s musical meal.
McBain… what can be said about an instrumental that should be included in the pantheon of classic rock greats such as Frankenstein and Elizabeth Reed? The powerhouse intro cleaved a deep groove into which initially flowed vibes and Moog flashes, but which was eventually filled with Al’s screeching guitar work. Jim complemented the lead with excellent conga playing (Jim’s accents are, to my ears, a crucial element in successful moe. jams), and helped bring the movement to a full blaze. Collapsing in a weird, slightly off kilter moment, the lead was now in Chuck’s hands, full of distortion. He carried the song to its finale, with Al whipping windmills in true rock star fashion.
As has been the case with many shows this tour, the first set closed with a pairing; in this case, an interesting Hi and Low > Head. The former began in a heady, mellow daze, Chuck painting the first solo with wavering cascades that slowly became more fluid and clean, and then hit a peak. The music dropped low, deeply low, to a green place, thick with Moog atmosphere. While Vinnie tried to shift focus with a new beat, the rest of the band took a great long while to catch up and crest the next ridge. Now a moment of indirection- this was hilly terrain indeed.
Incrementally, hints of Head began to creep into the mix, building up to a fantastic apex, as if the band was about to finish the song. But instead of crashing into the final verse, they crashed into the first, making for a weirdly inverted version- a very engaging performance to close the set.
Opening the second set with a light, throwaway version of Bring It Back Home, the quintet quickly dove back into the denser material with Bullet’s heavy groove. The jam began with some exceptionally well-placed rhythm work from Chuck that grew anxious with addition of vibes and Moog, and finally stretched into a flood of long wailing notes. Snapping, the solo unleashed a full Enter Sandman. The Metallica cover had the balcony literally shaking, threatening to overwhelm the theater’s structural integrity with its shear might. And when the tune finished, the band leaped back into Bullet right at the height of the jam, splicing it, in turn, to a short, but satisfying Kyle’s Song.
The show closed with another excellent and original pairing: Water > Plane Crash. Not long into Water, it became clear (maybe it was the slick layering of guitars in the mid-song improv; maybe it was the way Chuck broke free to ride the wave) that this one would stretch beyond itself. Feeding of the song’s inherent aggression, the transitional jam was hectic at first- simply too much going on. But Vinnie reined in the energy, refocusing the band toward a jungle rhythm with droning leads and cool bass effects. Al developed a line, but instead of making it glisten, the music only grew darker, more pulsing, and finally slipped into Plane Crash. Those well-known opening licks were absent, and the jungle rhythm kept pumping through the first verses and on into the jam, even morphing into a short Jingo tease. This was a Plane Crash for the jaded, something different and interesting that still cleared the landing with an explosion of energy. Despite the bad vibes garbed in blue shirts and armed with headsets and flashlights, it was a great show with a nice balance of what you wanted to hear, and what you didn’t know you wanted to hear.