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Published: 2004/12/03
by Jesse Jarnow

moe., Roseland Ballroom, NYC, 11/26

NYC ROLL-TOP: Wicked Awesome

Holidays hold a certain voodoo for jambands. Halloween gigs become excuses for cover song costumes. New Year's has weirder vibes, the night that a cosmic glitch might inadvertently split the universe open for those standing on the right precipice. Thanksgiving events, on the other hand, are frequently familial affairs, both for bands and fans. As always, the New York area was overrun with choices: two nights of the Disco Biscuits in nearby Sayreville, New Jersey; two evenings with the New Deal at the Bowery Ballroom (no Thanksgiving homecoming shows to play in Toronto, eh); U-Melt mixed in surround sound at the Lion's Den, O.A.R. at the Hammerstein for the kiddies, a Tap Bar jam session between members of The Duo and The Slip; and two gigs by moe. at Roseland Ballroom. On Friday (and by all reports, Saturday), moe. faired bitchingly.

Now 10 years into active duty, moe. is the northeast's de facto hippie draw, seasoned veterans in the post-Phish landscape. And, simply by virtue of being the biggest show in town (jamband-wise, that is), moe.'s Roseland outing drew fans home on college break, kids come in from the suburbs for first ventures into the big city, and those who followed moe. through the lower Manhattan bar ranks to the cavernous midtown dance hall. With a decade of history, and a dozen new songs introduced on their current tour, moe. had the task of pleasing everybody, and did so with gracefully unconscious panache, mixing old staples with mid-period "hits," very good new material, and hints of topicality that lent the show its structure.

Leading off with the apolitical snap of "Captain America," the familiar and catchy opener from 2001's Dither, the quintet had the crowd in the palm of their hand, building through a wiry jam and into "Seat Of My Pants," its cyberboom-era cartoon bounce proving surprisingly durable. Not in the least because of defining songs like "Seat Of My Pants," moe. has a sound, a particular musical idea stamped out in different ways, which any new material must exist in some relationship to (if only for fans). The three new songs moe. played on Friday all existed with perfect comfort inside that sound, managing to explore old creative pathways in fresh ways, and sound like vintage moe. in the bargain. All were played with road-worked confidence, and didn’t interrupt a beat of the gig’s flow.

Chuck Garvey's "Wind It Up," performed in the first set, seemed pushed out from the band's fundamental Zappa DNA, framed by Al Schnier's burgeoning electronic interests, and driven by Jim Loughlin's skittering vibraphone. Schnier's "Wicked Awesome," nestled in the middle of an exploratory "Rebubula" (itself begun with a well-earned/well-placed deeply abstract jam), galloped with such classic rock authority that people around me wondered if it wasn't a cover song. Finally, Schnier's "Good Trip," played midway through the second set, could well be a Camper Van Beethoven tune, its giddily falsetto "don't die!" refrain sounding birthed from a mid-'80s beer-soaked Santa Cruz house party.

moe. sprinkled their more open-ended jams throughout the evening. The "Rebubula" sequence, especially, was musically dramatic — clanging Sonic Youthisms of the first jam sliding easily into the easy bombastics of "Wicked Awesome" before dipping into the Zeppeliny mysticism of "So Long," and on into the still remarkable ending of "Rebubula," whose flip-switch transition from ethereal to anthemic still stuns 10 years after its debut. In the second set, they delivered big with a Loughlin-fired "Meat" set closer, as well as bits and bobs of high inspiration throughout. The band's old problems still surfaced every now and then – Schnier's "Mexico" solo was too long and too wanky, Wormwood’s "Kyle" and "Kids" still both sound lazily half-baked as compositions – but, really, blah blah blah, y’know?

And the topicality – the sorts of things that can draw a new listener along (and in) – was there, too, in "We’re A Couple of Misfits," the second set opening cover from "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" (to mark the beginning of the Christmas shopping season, of course), and the encore-closing "New York City," a genuinely great song that has the added virtue of making Manhattan audiences very happy. Pair that with the rarely played "Bearsong" to open the encore, and just about everybody goes home grinning. At Roseland, moe. did something truly remarkable: they played a triumphant and memorable homecoming show (well, their third home) in front of a big crowd in a big room, that was as it was only because they were themselves, without guests, without gimmicks, without pretension, confident and impressive. How many jambands can do that?

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