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Published: 2004/11/29
by John Smrtic

moe. , Ulster Performing Arts Center, Kingston, NY- 11/12

Picture this: five stoners post-work on a Friday night… haven't eaten all day… fistfuls of Sammy Smith Organic Lager and Newcastle… an hour and a half drive from Saratoga to Kingston in a mid-November snowstorm on the agenda. Though the Ulster Performing Arts Center and moe. awaited, trying to motivate this crew was more an epic comedy than any pressing drama.

After finally the hitting the road… and finally getting the head lights turned on (thanks to a friendly driver's reminder)... auto-pilot took over as anticipation for the show began to build. Nothing quite like a raging rock n' roll show to get those bones shakin' and movin'... dancin' the workweek blues clean away.

The line was bursting out the door at the venue, pouring out on to the street, as the crowd huddled together, attempting to fend off the deep chill and swirling snow. We worked our way slowly into the lobby where will call was inconveniently placed all the way to the right of a bustling mob all fighting to get their tickets and take their seats before our Happy Hour Heroes took the stage and the first notes were played. No such luck for us.

(Insert reviewer's two cents here:) Being an upstate New Yorker, I have seen my fair share of moe. shows and have passed on even more opportunities to do so. While the Utica/Buffalo/New York City Boys are all outstanding musicians, I have come to feel that at times the genre-bending quintet has reached a growth plateau, not talent wise, but in a much more intangible sense. While certain unnamed "jambands" have been around for nearly a decade less, their growth, from an explorational sense and even fan base sense, has dwarfed that of moe. Indeed moe. has catapulted me and its legions of followers into the psychedelic unknown and has raised my spirit to that magical musical place where your soul appears to be floating above the crowd observing both the artistry and the self from the omniscient observer perspective. But I have also had my fair share of moe. moments where I get a sense that they're jams are at times self-indulgent… jamming for the sake of jamming. But I suppose that's why they keep packing em in.

Many of these thoughts and feelings ran rampant through my brain stem as we finally got to the back of the theatre. Of course my crew had to make a pit-stop in the rest room and we immediately headed to the beer line before heading into the two-song-old show. Right before I was about to be served, the call of "We're all out of beer," smacked my cheek. Puzzled yet scheming I ran up to the balcony bar only to be greeted by the same chant. This is probably the first time in the venue's history that they ever ran out of beer. Goddamn hippies. Their livers must be sponges. Oh well… it wasn't like I needed a beer. And I was not about to purchase the only remaining alcohol… wine. I would be rosey-cheeked and dreamy-eyed before set break. But that still would not stop the rest of the crowd from carrying away pint-sized cups of the red and white potions. Courageous folks indeed. Dear Lord… they sold out of wine too! Goddamn Hippies!

I won't comment much on the first set other than to say my typical moe. feelings were present and prominent, but like all wonderful experiments in alchemy, set and setting play a tremendous role. Having to park in the ghetto, freezing my ass off outside and being late and beer-less tinted my already somewhat jaded perspective. The set was definitely cookin' though and Al spent a good deal of time dripping layers of mind melt on synthesizer. The near hour and a half set broke down like this:

"Bullet" > "Tailspin," "New York City," "Summer O'Why," "McBain," > "Kyle's Song" >"Kids"

Set break provided a nice opportunity to settle in and get comfortable, chat with the kids around us and finally get into the vibe of the charming little theatre. As the band took the stage nothing would prepare me for what was about to go down, one of the most intelligent, coherent and smooth sets of music I have heard in years.

Set two began with the ragin' drum and bass of "Not Coming Down," instantaneously launching the crowd into hyper-space mode. Much like in the first set, Rob's bass work was strong and superior, and he was definitely the floor leader this night. As Jim and Vinnie's percussion thundered and roared, Rob held his bass up high to his chest and thumb slapped at a skill level and frenzied pace that would challenge Flea on his best night. As the bass notes bent and reverberated frenetically, Al and Chuck's guitar work and the screaming lyrics took on a very much punk influenced sound.

_Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah
Not Coming Down
Yeah… I'm outta my head
Yeah… Shouldn't of got outta bed
Yeah… I might be better off dead
Yeah… I think I'm outta my head
Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah
Not Coming Down_

This was definitely a message of the band's mindset coming out of the set break… rip roaring high and cruising along.

As soon as the last notes of "Coming Down" ended, moe. slithered and meandered through "Wormwood." Al's guitar work silky and sexy, as the lights induced Absinthe-like visions in the crowd. Wormwood, artemesia absinthium, is a plant whose active ingredient thujone is a relatively potent toxin but more importantly a hallucinogen. Wormwood is the core constituent of the legendary alcohol Absinthe. While illegal in most of the world with wormwood, the drink can still be found in some Eastern European nations and minus the special additive in America. Absinthe is the famed intoxicant of Vincent Van Gogh, Oscar Wilde, Pablo Picasso and Ernest Hemingway… all contributors of gigantic proportions to cultural history.

moe. settled in to the hypnotic rhythm and trance-like comfort of the tune while slowly and progressively slowing the pace over five minutes into the tune. What would be coming up? Would it be "Okayalright," the final tune of the LP trilogy segue? No, instead the choice would be much more appropriate and would keep with the theme of this psychedelic set. The groove was so deep and infectious, the segue completely seamless, the new tune wasn't immediately apparent, but I got the biggest shit eatin' grin when I heard the words:

_Give me some fire
And a piece of glass_

"Opium", as seductively syrupy and intoxicating as the title character, moe. spun us a tale while spinning our heads.

_Hear that train floating past
On feathered tracks with helium wheels
Got no coal, got no steel
Opium won't you smile on my brain
Flowers and fog you've got me feeling no pain…_

More ethnobotany. The opium poppy, papaver somniferum, bears a special fruit from its unripened pod. One of the active ingredients of opium is of course morphine, the most potent naturally occurring pain killer, named for Morpheus, the Greek god of dreams. Morphine has an even more sinister counterpart, acetyl morphine… aka heroin. But the Boys in the opening verse metaphorically tell us… no tracks… no steel! Straight opium… no needles please. But interestingly by the end of the song the mood seems to change with the lyrics…

_Fast asleep, quick to die
Seen em go in the blink of an eye
Long white line, tied to the tracks
Little white lie, no looking back_

Hmmmmm? Has man's evil synthetic way gained the upper hand? This we are left to ponder because as soon as the lyrics ended, Jim Weider, formerly of The Band, joined in on slide guitar for a three way duel and made the song even more mesmerizing, if possible.

Then it was time for some upbeat fun as "Opium" jammed into the rollicking, bouncing "Lylelovit." The theme kept rolling along as the tune makes repeated "bottle" (ethanol… aka… good ole alcohol) references. "Bottles," "chickens" and a "dog named Joe." As the lyrics belt out, "I can't stand living this way," it seems as though the drugs have indeed shifted into that almost evil stage. Let's escape this madness and "move to the country and sleep in a log." Perhaps the log is yet another metaphoric reminder of the hollow existence that often follows the drug culture.

"Lylelovit" ended the initial four-song segue, but keeping with the upbeat, whacked out vibe, moe. delivered one of its showcase tunes, Timmy Tucker. The crowd rising and writhing in excitement and bliss, high as a kite on the music and God knows whatever else, had a good old fashioned sing along about "a long line of geeks" and "horseshoe throwing freaks." "Poor Timmy Tucker" finally frees himself from the powers that be but quickly finds himself in another hell, the army, before finally ending up in the armpit of the earth… drug central… sewage in the streets… ahhh Tijuana. Escape as he may try, our lead character seems to continually get trapped in unfortunate circumstances though the musical tone contrasts, setting more of a partying, dancing vibe… as we did for fifteen-plus minutes.

Al's relatively new tune "Wake Up" initially brought some playfulness to the flow before moe. soared back to psychedelic highs before twisting into the percussive teasings of what would be the final song of the second set, twenty minutes of "Plane Crash."

Rob once again laid down tremendous bass bombs as Vinnie offered the tribal rhythm on drums and Jim added the perfect "trippy" highlights via his percussion kit. The lights and haze and band and crowd would settle into this groove for nearly ten minutes before the first lyrics would hit… and hit strong…

_Strap me in
Tie me down
And roll me a bone…

Strap me in
Tie me down
I'm learning to fly
Drinvin' across the country
I get too fuckin' high
Too fuckin high!_

Plane Crash is a rowdy, thunderous way to end a set but in light of the theme and mood of the rest of set two, Plane Crash was the only ending. Coming back down now… and not so gently.

The encore would prove an appropriate wrap up to the night of transcendence. Radiohead's "Karma Police" was an interesting choice as the vocals didn't necessarily jive but the previous mood and tone would continue. Al's repeated "I lost myself" chant was scary yet would eventually give way to him thrashing his axe before a fast paced funk cadence would ensue…Wait. What is that I hear? Ahh yes. "Poor Timmy Tucker" refrain… one last time for the brain. Drive home safely. Be careful of the snow. Don't drink and drive. Don't speed. And just like in the movie Almost Famous, "Don't do any drugs." Lest you'll find yourself like poor Timmy Fuckin' Tucker… in godforsaken Tijuana.

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