When moe. comes back to the city of its birth, things usually get a little crazy. A bit of civic pride enters the equation for the concertgoer – moe. belongs to us, in a sense, and the band has done an able job representing our town to the broader jam-band community for two decades now. So an air of giddy excitement normally follows, and Friday’s twin-set Town Ballroom appearance was no exception.
The first of two nights at the Ballroom, Friday’s show started subtly, worked into a slow burn and ended up scaling epic heights. This was classic moe., a stirring blend of oddball funk, old-timey Americana, spacey jams and sophisticated ensemble interplay. All of which somehow added up to a form of freaked-out dance music Friday.
Moe.’s sound is built from the bottom up, which means that the rhythm section of bassist Rob Derhak, drummer Vinnie Amico and percussionist Jim Loughlin is responsible for laying the foundation for all of the improvisational tomfoolery that follows. On Friday, the Derhak/Amico/Loughlin team shoveled some serious coal in the engine room, establishing supple grooves, which allowed for some significant interplay between guitarists Al Schnier and Chuck Garvey.
On occasion, moe. shows will belong more to one or the other of the two guitarists. Schnier and Garvey have widely divergent styles as players, and depending on the evening, one of the two might take the lead role. However, Friday’s show was notable for the manner in which the two shared the space available to them. Clearly, the two guitarists feed off of each other’s playing, to the point that a lengthy, slowly building Schnier solo based on a funky EDM-style motif might bring forth a more languid, melodic response from Garvey, and vice versa. It’s in the interplay, the call-and-response between Schnier and Garvey, that the magic of a good moe. show presents itself.
Oddly enough, it was during an epic-length, multifaceted take on “Havah Negilah” that the band hit its peak. The taut, stuttering groove and the Eastern European modalities brought out the band’s playful side, and some serious shredding ensued.
Other highlights included an eloquent reading of “Tailspin,” an urgent “Waiting for the Punchline,” and a sprawling “Timmy Tucker,” both of which soared on the strength of (you guessed it) the dynamic interplay between Schnier and Garvey.
Right out of the gate, moe. owned the packed Town Ballroom crowd. Unlike some of its contemporary jam-band peers, moe. has avoided the jam-tronica craze – the lack of a keyboard player in the band prevents things from ever getting too electro. This can be a good thing, because moe. avoids some of the trance-inducing grooves that can on occasion make, say, a Conspirator show get a little bit dull by midpoint. That said, there were moments when Schnier employed digital delay-soaked motifs to build electronic dance music-informed movements within the jams. When he did this, the effect on the crowd was palpable, and the energy in the room skyrocketed, as dancers whirled around the floor in front of the stage, the impressive light show throbbed in time, and things got good and trippy.
Floodwood, a jam-grass band featuring moe.’s Schnier and Amico in addition to mandolinist Jason Barady, upright bassist Zachary Fleitz, and fiddle player Nick Piccininni, opened the proceedings with an absolutely killer set. The band blends traditional Americana, folk, counter and bluegrass, with a delightfully twisted progressive streak. As the moniker suggests, jam-grass is bluegrass with lengthy jamming tossed into the mix, and man, these guys really know how to tear it up. Schnier played flat-picked acoustic guitar throughout the band’s set, and some of his solos were simply jaw-dropping: speed-repeated motifs and expanded melodic lines that, when bounced off of his equally virtuosic cohorts Barady and Piccininni, recalled the highest highs scaled by Jerry Garcia and David Grisman during their storied collaborations.
All told, Friday’s show represented a victorious homecoming from one of our city’s finest musical exports.