moe. w/ Umphrey’s McGee, House of Blues, Las Vegas, NV-4/15
Halfway through their late-night Las Vegas gig, moe. disappeared. Like a modern day Houdini, moe. slipped away without leaving a trail, fading into a sea of SOLO keg cups and backstage laminates as if this was any other mid-show set break. With the House of Blues' clock clicking closer and closer to 2:30 AM, an overtired energy buzzed throughout moe.'s oversold audience, as fans tried to drown out their blurry eyes with an extra special late-night brew. Given these circumstances, few fans seemed to notice a small, black keyboard making its way onstage during set break and even fewer fans seemed to notice that the club's lights remained dark for a few extra minutes as the second set commenced. But, as soon as the House of Blues' lights faded back to bright, moe. was nowhere to be found.
An increasingly popular "special show" gag, moe. has offered several full band segues over the past few years, swapping placing with everyone from the Ominous Seapods at Gathering of the Vibes to Govt Mule at Jazz Fest. More than a visual stunt, moe.‘s slippery switch-up is tangible evidence of their musical fluidity, weaving together diverse passages with a professional ease. But the Buffalo-bred quintet’s decision to invite Umphrey’s onstage as a mid-show ringer seemed particularly appropriate. Like moe. before them, Umphrey’s McGee combines strong songwriting and cartoonish energy, making both groups favorites among jammers of all ages. Packing clubs in the Midwest and Northeast, Umphrey’s McGee seem to have picked up some of moe.‘s stranglers as well, enticing rock and roll fans still hoping to see a young band at their club peak. Playing a show of their own at the nearby Club Rio the following night, Umphrey’s McGee, like moe., are also tied to jamband party culture, cultivating their following in the wake of early 1990s jam-kings Phish and Widespread Panic.
In certain contexts, it might seem odd for moe. to be playing a post-Phish show. With a strong fan base and increasingly individual sound, moe. should be playing large venues on their own, not cramming a crowd-and-a-half into post-show clubs. But Las Vegas, with its Sin City reputation and enticing extracurricular activities, always adopts a duel-stage festival feel upon Phish’s visit. With jamband fans from far and wide converging for three days, it seemed appropriate for moe. to fill the weekend’s late-night spot, playing a high-energy club show that recalled their days rocking venues like Valentines and the Wetlands (albeit a tad bit bigger).
Appearance wise, Las Vegas’ House of Blues looks no different from the dozen other restaurant/clubs that bare its name; a popular chain sprinkled throughout the country. Built into a back corner of the pristine, Mandalay Bay Sin City’s House of Blues even sports the club’s trademark Disney-style New Orleans wood carvings, engravings of BB King, Buddy Guy, Howlin’ Wolf and a host of other blues icons. With a single index finger in the air, several ticketless moe.rons milled around the House of Blues indoor exterior, chanting the phrase cash or trade amidst a seas of coin clicks and slot chimes from nearby casino games. Only Vegas can truly drown out the energy of a sold-out jamband soir
Opening with a suite of high-energy numbers, highlighted by the always fun "Don’t Fuck with Flow," moe. fed off of their crowd’s after-show energy. Playing with balls-out energy, bassist Rob Derhak led each of the group’s first set songs, a continuous jam that favored manic scales over spacey improvisation. More than many of their peers, moe. seem to have two identities. When left to their own devices, the group creates a continuous suite of songs, balancing defined rock numbers like "Captain America," pop ditties like "New York City," and psychedelic experiments like "Spine of the Dog." As moe. graduated into theaters and large clubs, the quintet has also crafted delicate ballads and catchy pop ditties, filling these numbers into well balanced rock and roll shows. One of jam-rock’s most traditional bands, these large scale shows have always suited moe. quite well, showcasing a range of material and, at times, reining in the group’s tendencies to flex their toned flesh. But, in a late-night club setting, moe. pushed their improvisational abilities to the limit, stretching out each of their songs and tying their jams together with neatly crafted, catchy heads.
Adding to moe.‘s party atmosphere, were the lights of Jambands.com News Editor emeritus Jeff Waful. Changing colors along with moe.‘s moods, Waful clearly understood moe.‘s rhythmic changes, painting each song’s emotion in green, red, blue, and black. Favoring the red lights for much of moe.‘s set, Waful helped bring out the group’s unbridled energy, helping to shift them away from spacey, late night jams. Not that moe. truly rejected Dead-style space. The second set saw yet another continuous medley, weaving "Seat of my Pants," "Meat," and the new "Tailspin" into a single psychedelic story.
Making a surprise cameo at the second set’s start, Umphrey’s McGee jumped straight into "Nothing Too Fancy." Like moe., Umphrey’s is apt at incorporating bits of trance and funk into their rock-based sound. In lieu of a true full-band segue, moe.‘s percussionists Vinnie Amico and Jim Loughlin joined Umphrey’s at the end of their song, followed shortly after by Derhak. A brief pause then ensued, before moe. jumped into the musical meat of their show. For the second time that evening, moe. offered a completely segued set, before capping off their set with a fan-favorite "Buster." Given its post-show party feel, moe.‘s performance succeeded, keeping their crowd on the dance floor until just before dawn. But, perhaps next year, moe. might think about organizing their own Las Vegas outing.