moe., The Tabernacle, Atlanta, GA- 3/1
First things first: I arrived late for this show and missed opener Tea Leaf Green, much to my dismay. Therefore, I can’t review their part of this show, but the room had a palpable energy when I walked in and I’m sure TLG had something to do with it.
The most recent moe. album The Conch pleasantly surprised me, and struck me as the work of a rejuvenated group. I went to this show curious to see if the artistic growth I sensed on the new CD would translate into their live show. The Conch is marked by the quality of its songwriting, and at this show the new material stood proudly next to cherished fan favorites. In fact, the first real sparks of the night came when moe. launched into “Tailspin.” This hard rocker energized the crowd, and I was very impressed with Chuck Garvey’s passionate and imaginative guitar solo. He and Al Schnier were both ripping all night, but they both seemed to dig in a little harder on the fresher material. This is as it should be, and it is a hallmark of a healthy and creative band. You play the old songs for the fansyou play the new songs for yourself.
In fact, the group paired up some of their most road-tested tunes with newer compositions, as if to assert that the current crop deserves equal respect. The most successful pairing was the “Rebubula>Wind It Up” combo that concluded the first set. With its beautiful guitar lines and intricate arrangement, “Rebubula” was the song that first attracted me to moe. many years ago, and I was happy to hear it again. The jam developed into a mellow groove that was highly reminiscent of “Fire On The Mountain” at times.
However cool it was to hear one of the most classic songs in the moe. catalog, when the band launched into “Wind It Up,” the older tune was quickly overshadowed. Effortlessly maneuvering through several distinct sections, the band was tight and on point and played as if they had something to prove. The intricate xylophone parts showcased the talent of Jim Loughlin, and reminded me of Zappa’s early 70s work. By the time they reached the joyous conclusion, the crowd was singing along with vigor to a song many were hearing for the first time.
The second set started in the same fashion, opening with the classic “Not Coming Down” and seguing into a nasty “Wormwood” jam before hitting another new song from The Conch, “Blue Jeans Pizza.” Once again, it was the new song that stood out, with its radiant guitar lines and bassist Rob Derhak’s fitting falsetto. “McBain” followed and featured a spectacular xylophone solo from Laughlin, plus some of the most focused jamming of the evening.
After this show, one fan on Phantasy Tour’s moe. board said “This show was all about the segues” and I would have to agree. At a time when many bands are running away from the “jamband” label, moe. embraces their jamband roots, fearlessly jamming “without a net.” The group was tighter than I’d ever seen but at the same time, each open-ended jam seemed to have infinite possibilities. That combination of improvisation and focus is what makes the best live music.
Of course, nothing in life is perfect, and the 35-minute “Yodelittle” that ensued was often rambling and unsteady. There aren’t many songs that can carry a jam for more than half an hour, and “Yodelittle” isn’t exactly “Dark Star” or “Mountain Jam.” It was sweet when the band swept back into a powerful “Rebubula” reprise to end the second set, but much of the momentum of the night had been lost. The “Enter Sandman>The Pit” encore was downright evil and packed plenty of punch, but it would have hit even harder had the show as a whole been a little more concise.
That said, this was clearly the best moe. show I’ve ever seen. Part of that was just good old-fashioned setlist luck, the kind we all wish for at every show. I got all of my favorite moe. classics, plus all my favorite songs from the new CD.
However, it wasn’t just that. For a group that has been around 16 years, moe. still has a surprising amount of fire in their belly. As individuals, they all seem to continue to improve as musicians, and as a group, they have reached that level of telepathy that renders hand signals and eye contact unnecessary. That is what is supposed to happen when you play music together for a very long time, but it’s very easy for apathy to set in, and most bands are not hitting new heights 16 years after they started. This one is.