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Published: 2005/02/23
by Jesse Jarnow

moe. and many, Tsunami Relief Benefit, Roseland Ballroon- 2/10

NYC ROLL-TOP: Peaches!

It was pretty much a foregone conclusion that the moe.-hosted, star-studded tsunami relief benefit at Manhattan's Roseland Ballroom on February 10th would be quickly uploaded, hungrily downloaded, and would adroitly zip to the top of the informally gauged BitTorrent charts (perhaps the first accurate measure of popularity the jamband world has yet known). Which, of course, it did. And with fine reason. It was a grand time. moe. coulda sold out the joint no matter who was guesting, but the well-advertised presence of Phish's Trey Anastasio (and to a lesser, but notable, extent mandolinist Sam Bush and Medeski, Martin, and Wood organist John Medeski) was what had 'em veritably hanging from the midtown venue's rafters.

On the highlights reel for the evening (oh how I wish I could download song-by-song on BT), the show-opening "Rebubula" – moe.'s only "solo" number of the eve – would likely be a bonus track. But whadda bonus track. A pitch-perfect way to begin, it was a textbook rendition of textbook moe.-brand tension and release. Clocking in at around 15 minutes, the actual jam probably only encompassed about four of those, nudged between Al Schnier and Chuck Garvey's spiraling twin guitar acrobatics. During the tune's decade of existence, moe. has refined the dynamic nuances of its myriad frills and turned "Rebubula" into a jeweled, perfect anthem. It did what it was supposed to do with minimal fuss and high drama.

The remainder of the first set should be left to the box set and the obsessives, especially the momentum-thwarting Sam Bush solo rendition of Little Feat's "Sailing Shoes," and the set-closing "Crossroads," which marked Anastasio's entrance. Like J.J. Cale's "After Midnight" (played during the encore), Robert Johnson's "Crossroads" has long outlived its usefulness as a common currency for rock musicians, relegated to Central Casting shorthand for a Good Time. Seems like there should be plenty of tunes in the shared vocabulary that could be mined for big cheers, bigger energy, and more creative playing (pretty much any Talking Heads single, fer example) if a little more thought was put into it. But it was hard to argue with the surge of energy when Anastasio walked onstage, and the double-time chaos that brought the set to a finish.

It wasn't until the second half that the musicians capitalized. Ballooned to seven or eight pieces, the ensemble alternately included (besides Anastasio and the five dudes branded moe.) Medeski, Bush, and Anastasio regulars Ray Paczkowski on keyboards and Jen Hartswick on vocals. With even the Trey Anastasio Band temporarily on ice, there was a nostalgic twinge when the band struck up Anastasio's (inadvertent?) Bob Seger homage "Night Speaks To A Woman" (enough to carry the crowd into the beginning of the jam before they remembered who they were being nostalgic for). And – besides a cool minimalist breakdown in the first set's Medeski-colored Jimmy Smith tribute – the jam was the first thing of the evening that lived up to the evening's guest-billed potential, Anastasio fully in charge in a way absent from Phish's last performances, strapping on the jammy pac once more for a tour through the cosmos.

"It felt really good playing guitar for you guys," Anastasio murmured before launching into a joyous acoustic sing-along on Phish's "Chalkdust Torture" (another bonus cut, I think, though it might fit anyway) which rode on the crowd's energy more than Anastasio's earnest strumming. "Meat," moe.'s perpetual jam vehicle, will take up the bulk of the highlights disc: nearly 40 minutes of crescendos and straight frenzy. It was the same modus operandi used on "Spine Of A Dog" earlier in the set: play really loudly and very fast and it won’t really matter if not everybody onstage knows the changes. And who can fault ‘em? In the case of an all-star jam, the best method (as a friend once said about something else entirely) is to scream and charge. And they did, fairly literally (musically speaking).

"Meat" hurdled with abandon through the spectacular and the mundane. Its downtime was more than made up for by a series of peaking sub-jams, including an Anastasio/Jim Loughlin guitar/vibraphone duet (which drew out the Zappa-like elements in Anastasio's playing more than Anastasio's own recent work), a mellowed-out fiddle improv led by Bush, a deep organ swamp forded by Medeski and Paczkowski — and that's not to mention the semi-Sun Ra like space swirl. Throughout the night, moe. (especially Garvey and Schnier) were respectful hosts. The fact that their names dot so few of the evening's high points is immaterial. On "Meat," especially, they were the musically amiable force holding it together, quietly conducting from section to section.

The totally unexpected run through Frank Zappa's "Peaches en Regalia" (led by Laughlin) was a delicious treat, a perfect choice for all musicians involved, and a great disc-closing/leave-‘em-wanting-more way to send the crowd into the night. "After Midnight" followed (despite the fact that after midnight the crowd would be swept out into the cold by Roseland’s ever-courteous staff and, should anybody try to let it all hang out, it’d probably get pretty cold and shrivel up in the February wind shrieking down avenue canyons… or maybe they were just referring to some decadent post-show orgy to come). But that’s why we have highlight reels. At any rate, there was certainly enough uncut kick-assness for the collective selective memory to be one of joy. And thank moe. for that, huh?

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