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Published: 2009/04/02
by Randy Ray

Moonalice, Goat Head Saloon, Mesa, AZ 3/28

Notes about the Legend known as Moonalice, while doo-woping through the Goat Head

A venture capitalist, an investor’s wife, an ex-_Saturday Night Live_ bandleader, a former (and future?) Dead family musician, an original and longtime Grateful Dead road crew member and author, and members of Jefferson Airplane>Hot Tuna>Starship>Hot Tuna, and a fairly kick ass skinsmith to name just almost more than a few.

No, that’s not a roll call of a fairly heady audience. That was and is Moonalice at the Goat Head, less one member of Hot Tuna, a bassist and chap known as Jack Casady (you may have heard of him) who is off the tour until late April due to a family emergency.

The band consists of Roger McNamee on acoustic and rhythm guitars and heavy witticism amidst Moonalice legend readings (more on that one later) when he isn’t fronting multi-million dollar co-partnerships with blokes like Bono (no lie), Ann McNamee, his lovely wife on vocals, G.E. Smith (who I once saw on tour with Dylan’s band in the late 80s, and also held the post as SNL’s guitarist, amongst many other gigs), Pete Sears on keyboards on vocals, Jimmy Sanchez on drums, Barry Sless on lap steel guitar and lead guitar, and Steve Parish (yes, THAT Steve Parish) as the MC of this whole lovely and wacky hippie affair.

Moonalice is a fine collective fronted by a man whom I wasn’t sure if he was just a weekend hippie, or if he had paid his way into improv music for kicks, or was on a late period George Plimpton trip (look it up, kids). Indeed, at the Goat Head, he proved to be a worthy traveler in the ways of some really cool music and little historical tales, taboot.

The band crafts brief tight tunes that are ear candy-catchy while mixing it up with some incredibly warm and open space improvisation, Dead jaunty jamming and sublime playing that befits men of the caliber of the likes such as Smith, Sears, and Sless.

Parish began the 3-hour plus, 2-set gig with a Moonalice legend about the tribe in which we all dwell, instant friends one and all, and it set up a fairly astute vibe for the eve. The band kicked into a sturdy version of Canned Heat’s “On the Road Again,” featuring a vibrant Sless lap steel solo, and we were off for a 90-minute set. Don Raye’s “Down the Road a Piece” followed and one got the first helping of Sears on keyboards with a rugged Smith vocal delivery that matched well with the number.

McNamee then delivered his first reading from the Moonalice legends book about the formation of the city of Phoenix, and how hemp originated here, migrated to California, and how that was probably a great thing in some way. Since Casady wasn’t there, each song would require a different bassist, and indeed the first comical disagreement about who would play bass commenced before “Fair to Even Odds,” which had the sometimes wise investor/always cool hippie rocker handling bass duties, and a strong vocal performance from Sears with a slashing lead guitar phrasing from Sless.

Speaking of solosthe next song “I’m Glad You Think So,” had a tremendous Smith solo, before Smith delivered another fine vocal on “Heart Frozen Up.” (Smith, of course, spent quite a bit of time with the Hall & Oates band when they were really good, so he knows about that Phiddy soul, dig).

Steely Dan’s “Show Biz Kids” had another tremendous solo from Sless, while a reading of Procol Harum’s “Whiter Shade of Pale” had an out-of-left-field crunchy hard rock riff that was delivered with staccato confidence from Smith and lifted the song out of its original context. By now, McNamee who was continuing with fine legends from the book (no not THAT book) and witty asides after nearly every song stated that “I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but everyone’s played bassexcept Jimmy [the drummer]”which was true, and even included his wife who did a fairly good job herself on the guitar.

And yeahhaving Smith or Sless playing bass sort of misses the point. These cats are great guitarists, and I want to hear what they can do in collaboration on lead and slide, or, hopefully, lead and lead, on occasion, trading riffs and exchanging ideas. Other than that, the bass situation was fine, played for comic effect, and didn’t harm the gig. To be honest, the band can jam quite well in between some of the more rock n’ soulful tunes. “Kick It Open” was the one true extended exploration during the first set, and it featured Sears on vocals, and a great, visual and atmospheric jam fronted by the keyboardist.

The second set was where the band decided to stretch out and play without the proverbial net, after another off-the-wall but very friendly Moonalice legend intro by Parish who quipped: “I thought weed was legal in this state?” (Oh, and don’t get pulled over drunk driving out here, either, Big Steve. You seen Wyatt Earp?)

Well, enough of thatthe jams came slow, confident, and were built with a careful attention to sonic architecture. Quite simply, the all-star type quality of the band came to play in the second set, and the highlights included “Road to Here” and a dueling solo between Sless on steel and Sears on keys that melted into a fantastic and deliberate bit of adventure; “Little Queenie,” a fine old Chuck Berry bit of salacious strut with raunchy lead work from Smith; “Nick of Time,” with great, patient (that word again, kids, write it down) lead solo from Sless, and a clear standout for jam o’ the eve; and later, robust and gorgeous versions of two twin towers of Garcia/Dead lore: “Stella Blue,” which was handled with beautiful remorse by Sears on keys and vocals, and Sless on steel, and “Sugaree,” with fine vocals from Smith and some stellar guitar work, as well.

The boisterous and friendly Moonalice legend lives on. At least it did at the Goat Head, and the free posters commemorating the event helped as the portrait says it all: equal parts 19th century saloon prowlers, 21st century investor/advice/tech gurus, hippies, weirdoes, fun time clowns, lawdy miss clawdy shake-em-down artist, and a collection of some very gifted musicians that know how to get an audience off its collective ass, dancing while hearing tunes, jams & funny tall tales throughout the evening.

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