moe., Roseland Ballroom, New York, NY-11/25
At times, it’s easy to take them for granted. So easily baked into the bread-and-butter of jam-nation—-one of the few bands that has weathered over a decade on the road without an extended hiatus or an embarrassing public breakdown. In certain respects, the group embodies the jamband stereotype full-heartedly, sporting a silly name, a hippie-rock personality and a canon full of cartoonish energy. Its resume reads like the appendix of the text which inspired this magazine: since forming in 1991, moe. has toured with both The Dead and the Allman Brothers, played everywhere from Japan to JazzFest, written a rock-opera and staged its own multi-day festival—-heck, in recent years, it’s even chartered its own cruise.
But, it’s also easy to forget that things didn’t always come easy for moe. and, if you peer into the not so distant past, the group’s journey from the Buffalo bar circuit to New York’s Rosleand Ballroom is actually quite an astonishing tale—-the ultimate story of the little band that could. Once considered a runt of the third-generation jamband movement, moe. has steadily risen in the jamband ranks to the point that it is now the scene’s defining band—- one the first acts asked to play the next “it” festival and consistently on the forefront of weaving new bands into the jamband scene. It’s been a slow, gradual evolution and, perhaps a humble one, but, sometime since beginning to host its annual New York Thanksgiving gatherings in the mid-1990s, moe.’s late-November has become a tradition.
In so many ways moe. embodies everything that Thanksgiving has come to stand for in the bittersweet confines of secular, suburban culture: a time to catch up with old friends, barnstorm local bars and revisit one’s roots. Like Thanksgiving itself, seeing moe. is not a religious experience, but the band still embodies a sacred tradition, one based on the ever-evolving concept of family. For some reason, moe. never nurtured the rapid, tour culture of Phish, Widespread Panic or even String Cheese Incident, yet the quintet has maintained as loyal a fan base as any of its peers and has lasted to see the tenth anniversary of the Wetlands shows (11/24-24, 1995) which, arguably, secured its place in the Jammys Hall of Fame.
Opening with a long—-very long—-segue between “Meat” and “The Pit,” that showcased the double-guitar attack of Al Schiner and Chuck Garvey, moe. made its case early on in its set. The group came to jam, and it jammed hard throughout its four-hour segue fest. Relatively new numbers like “Not Coming Down” and “Wormword” already digest like old favorites, while even newer selections like “Tailspin” foreshadow the group’s current studio project. It’s almost as if moe. still has to prove itself on a nightly basis, pushing itself to the outer boundaries before exploring more subtle textures on a slowed-down, but still anathematic, “New York City.” But this workman-like effort has allowed the group to expand its own boundaries without drastically altering its sound over the years. If anything, the group has become more layered, with Schiner relying more on his moog synthesizer and al.one laptop effects, and with percussionist Jim Loughlin painting moe.’s sound with a layer of Zappa-like xylophone.
Starring down from the balcony of Roseland’s shoebox-shaped room, into the venue’s fishbowl-like general admission floor section, a careful social anthropologist could observe the interaction between the various types of concertgoers who attended moe.’s holiday performance. At times it’s difficult to isolate the characteristics of a stereotypic moe.ron verses fans of the jamband scene in general. From lauded rock-scribe David Fricke daviting in the venue’s balcony to a high-school freshman scoring his first illegal drink, every type of jamband fan sent at least one able-bodied representative to moe.’s Thanksgiving feast. Looking back, they meshed surprisingly well, despite a the row of passed out twenty-somethings lined up against the venue’s wall like wounded soldiers on the sidelines of a battlefield. At one end of the theater stood a pack of aging concert- goers—- most likely former-Deadhead and most likely allowed one night’s leave from their wives and families during Thanksgiving recess. For them, moe. a choice successor to the first generation jambands of their youth, a guitar-driven rock-band sprinkled with a touch of country.
At the other end of the theater, squished against the rail dividing moe. from its crowd, small, youthful cliques pushed and shoved their way into a mini-moshpit, before channeling, er, packing, their energy through more peaceful methods of rebellion. As expected, the evening’s crowd was filled with both veteran fans and fresh faces—-many of whom have most likely never have been to a jamband show before this weekend. For them, this night will inevitably be remembered as the beginning of an era, the night the jamband lightbulb flickered on in their youthful minds. moe.’s method of improvisation remains so pure and energetic, the lovechild of Primus and the Dead, that one can’t help getting into the holiday spirit as the group’s segued into a version “Spine of a Dog.”
Some seemed a little unsure of how to loosen up, toting soon-to-be ex-high-school girlfriends with moe. stickers pasted onto their designer pants, towards the front of the venue before retreating into the venue’s wings. But, then again, out of every pack of novice concertgoers one or two will inevitably rise through the ranks, forming bands, webzines and grassroots companies of their own, while high school friends will fall by the wayside, footnotes in the story of their first time.
As moe. kicked into the thematic “Oh, Chanukah,” emerging from a mammoth “She,” the group seemed to personify the Thanksgiving spirit, a time to enjoy the company of one’s extended family. The Disco Biscuits may be more adventurous, Phish will be remembered as more legendary and String Cheese is inheritably headier, but moe. remains stronger and its compositions remain anthemic. At the end of the night, moe. closed with “Captain America,” a tried-and-true pop song that has evolved into the heir to the Allman Brother’s signature twin-guitar style. If moe. is the great American jamband, then there is still no better time to hear their music than Thanksgiving.