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moe., Fox Theatre, Atlanta, GA 3/3 & 3/4

The former Yaarab Shriner Temple, now known as Atlanta’s Fabulous Fox Theatre, is a 4,500-seat monument to roaring 20’s excess and Old South grandeur. It boasts a fleet of volunteer ushers just as happy to be there as the fans and separate men’s and women’s smoking lounges where, in spite of tradition, smoking is no longer allowed. The Fox hosted the 1939 world premiere of Gone With the Wind, and, 67 years later, showed its Southern hospitality to moe.’s five upstate New Yorkers. And, like blockade-running Clark Gable before them, moe. evaded barriers (musical, not physical) on their way home. Their stage backdrop formed, with five pieces of canvas, a kind of abstract pirate ship. Indeed, these five Yankee pirates had a good run in Atlanta. Their ship hit rough patches but never sank, and some moments, especially during the second night, downright shivered the timbers of the Fox as moe.’s fans jumped in unison and glee.

On Frriday, moe. got down to business with a fun “Recreational Chemistry” that started the fun back-and-forth between guitarists Al Schnier and Chuck Garvey and bassist Rob Derhak, which had a smooth transition into “Blue Jeans Pizza” with its fun Steely Dan-style guitar playing. Chuck put on his underused slide and began ripping beautiful, smooth long notes over Rob’s fast, contrasting bass groove. Al had a little fun on keyboard before strapping on an acoustic guitar. moe. slipped brilliantly into “St. Augustine” and played some joyful rock and roll. During the final chorus, usually a capella, Al began strumming while the rest of the band members held their instruments, resulting in sudden three-part harmony over acoustic guitar that brought out even more joy in a song already singing “God is light. Light is good. Yeah, God is good” for the chorus. Rather than build on the momentum of the pumped-up crowd, moe. played “Four,” a much calmer song, midtempo at its fastest, that had no business being twenty minutes long. “Jazz Wank” was decent, featuring excellent and simple woodblock playing by Jim, and “The Ghost of Ralph’s Mom” picked everyone back up before setbreak.

The second set opened with “Timmy Tucker,” moe. and fans screaming the chorus and shaking the pit. Monstrous stop-start soloing wound down into a funky “Tailspin” where Rob started playing the bass line so similar to the slow part of “Antelope” that I kept waiting for Rob to say “rye, rye, rocco.” Jim picked up the xylophone and, 3 mallets in two hands, began playing chords that took Atlanta a little closer to the tropics, which led into the reggae-tinged “Crab Eyes.” “Not Coming Down” was a welcome short and sweet rocker, and out comes the bass solo from “Timmy Tucker.” Rob went nuts, slowly, and then came back down for a left-field transition into “Blue Jeans Pizza” which balanced itself on a combination of Chuck’s blistering slide and Jim’s xylophone. It went back into “Recreational Chemistry for one hell of a two-set sandwich to close the show. A mellow “Mexico” encore closed the night, but not before Rob “Birthday Boy” Derhak made sure everyone knew: “It’s my birthday, motherfuckers!” (Editor’s note: No it wasn’t)

Saturday night opened slowly and darkly with “The Pit” which picked up a vaguely polka-esque feel as it transitioned into a hilarious and happily off-kilter “Don’t Fuck with Flo.” Lighting director Jeff Waful outdid himself with the chaos during the chorus and I felt like I was on the boat in the original “Willy Wonka.”

moe. prides itself on learning at least one good Southern rock/country tune before setting foot in Atlanta. This year, Al got out the acoustic for Little Feat’s “Easy to Slip,” which caused surprised war whoops among the Feat fans in the crowd and was another tip of the hat to a city where moe. loves to play. The quintet kept the celebration going with “The Road” which led into “McBain > George > Down Boy.” “Down Boy” got a great reaction and everyone went into setbreak happy.

The second set was brilliantly constructed, and, without doubt, the highlight of the run. Divided into three parts, it rocked, rested, and rocked again, beginning and ending joyfully, playfully nasty in between, with a nice breather in the middle.“Moth” opened, and the sing-along and jumping began. The best part came about halfway through, when Chuck, rather than simply rip it up, began playing a solo that consisted of probably five different notes, played in different sequences, at different volumes, and bent different ways. It was like Phillip Glass picked up a guitar and wailed. “Moth” segued into a sterling “Bullet.” As if that weren’t enough, moe. segued back into a raucous close with “The Road.” The rarely-played “Letter Home” was the perfect breather. It was short, nostalgic, and a treat for everyone. moe. chalked up two more shout-outs to Atlanta and Georgia and the crowd let their feet heal, briefly. Immediately after, the stop-start swamp funk of “Can’t You Hear Me Knockin’” defined the phrase “joyfully nasty” as only the Rolling Stones can. It was pure, fist-pumping, guitar-string abusing rock and roll. A hint of “Buster” emerged, and moe. jammed seamlessly and gradually into it. The ass-shaking turned into arms-in-the-air jumping and chorus-singing to close the perfectly constructed set.

Having shaken the minarets enough for two nights, moe. played two (relatively) mellow encores to send the exhausted home, ending with “Conviction Song” and the appropriately-named “Wind it Up.”

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