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Published: 2005/01/15
by Jeff Miller

moe., Cox Arena, Las Vegas- 12/31 and 1/1

For moe. to start their New Year's run with "The Boys are Back in Town" was slightly prescient; at times over the past year it felt like the band was playing it safe. And, though moe.'s two-night run didn't exactly break much new ground, it was a welcome reminder of the band's musical craftsmanship and instrumental tightness, wound especially thick around a bevy of new songs that follow the sturdy A.M. rock mode of much of moe.'s best work.

At first glance, the Cox arena was an odd choice for moe. to play. The boxy, airy theater felt like a glorified gym; pre-show new years "revelry" was at a minimum, thanks to security's strong anti-glass-of-any-kind stance. Once inside, fans waited with anxious anticipation amid the best pre-show music possible, with many singing along to the Flaming Lips and Wilco songs piped into the room.

After "The Boys Are Back In Town," the three-set New Years Eve show got underway, featuring a few of those new songs, from "Wind It Up," to the anti-Bush indictment "George" and "Tailspin," a dual-guitar show-off that's become one of the band's signature tunes. The band's tradition of starting the year off with a new cover was continued with a smashing, full-throttle rendition of the Beastie Boys' "Fight For Your Right to Party," the punk-rock classic finding a bit of precision in moe.'s hands. Not-so-precise (but equally fun) was the rap-rock encore, "Farmer Ben."

Guitarist Chuck Garvey was particularly on during the second New Years set during the segue between "Tailspin" and longtime staple "Timmy Tucker., running chordal riffage alongside talk-box solos and wailing, distorted leads. Rob Derhak, usually the center of attention, played it almost-safe, commandeering the super-tight quintet with reserved authority.

If night one was about the party, night two was about the music. In two sets, moe. gave credit to their youth's radio rock in "Wicked Awesome," gave the ballad "Letter Home" a quiet coda that slowly yielded into a rousing "32 things," and bravely encored the eels-ish "Good Trip" before the safe closer of "Akimbo." The "Letter Home" transition was particularly notable: as one of the few moe. songs that's not usually extended past album length, it was a subtle reminder that there's still room for moe. to grow. The band stretched "Letter Home" to an almost 10 minute song without getting into a noodly rut, with Schneir taking charge of the space-rock instrumental that led to "32 Things". That's about as far as the experimentation went, which was fine. Even when they're not breaking barriers, it's also clear they're not just coasting.

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