Moe jams its way through a perfect show in Portland

by Scott Muir | 11/17/04 6:00am

After over 12 years of constant touring, Moe* has established itself as one of today's hardest working rock bands.

The band has built up an extremely dedicated fan base the old fashioned way: practicing and playing as much as possible. Vinnie Amico (percussion, bass), Rob Derhak (bass, vocals), Chuck Garvey (guitar, vocals), Jim Loughlin (drums) and Al Schnier (guitar, vocals) are all deeply committed to experimentation and the constant evolution of the music.

Fans across the country show equal fervor, traveling far and wide to see the band perform. The band shows its appreciation for this enthusiasm by permitting fans to record and, on occasion, videotape shows. The trading of these live recordings has helped to strengthen Moe's fan base in a way very similar to the Grateful Dead, Phish, etc.

The band has come a very long way since the raw nightly gigs at Broadway Joe's in Buffalo during the height of the Grunge Era. Their playing is infinitely more focused, diverse and professional. Moe's progress is obvious when one compares their debut album, "Fatboy," with their latest, "Wormwood" (winner of the Jammy for best studio album of 2003). The band's hard work has earned many prestigious gigs, including slots at all three Bonnaroo Festivals.

For the past few weeks, Moe has been playing their annual fall Northeastern U.S./Southeastern Canada run. Last Saturday, Moe played a sold out State Theatre in Portland, Maine, the last show before the traditional Thanksgiving weekend run at the Roseland Ballroom in New York City.

The band fed off the positive energy of the packed house, opening with "Okayalright" and "Gone," a pair of catchy, upbeat tunes from Wormwood, followed by "Understand" from 2000's album, "Dither."

Next, they launched into their new material with "Down Boy," "Disembodied Head" and Al's sentimental ballad, "Lost Along the Way." All three demonstrate the maturation and diversification of the band's song writing abilities. The new live songs predict a very strong new album sometime in the not-so-distant future.

The band then changed gears and finished the set old-school style with a long, satisfying "Recreational Chemistry" which blended into "Akimbo." Schnier darkened the "Chemistry" jam with some eerie effects from his synthesizer, while Garvey and Derhak carried the weight. Schnier and Garvey then nailed the "Akimbo" climax, trading fiery licks across the stage.

During the set break, an excited crowd packed the restrooms and drink lines, raving about the set and anticipating what was to come. Moe began the second set with an extremely tight "Y.O.Y," another one of the band's older tunes. Next the band jammed into a solid, lengthy "The Road," another well-written new tune, before taking a deep breath before the plunge.

Derhak turned up the intensity as he effortlessly introduced the classic head-banger "Meat" with the hellish rocker, "The Pit," a song from his side project, Swamp Donkey. His furious slap bass was complimented perfectly by some of Schnier's and Garvey's edgier guitar work, making the "Meat" jam the night's most intense.

Schnier also added lyrics from the Clash's "Guns of Brixton." The band kept the energy high, jamming into the rare, comedic ballad, "Don't F*** With Flo." Amico lightened the song with some of his exceptional xylophone playing. The jam continued into fan favorite "Buster," and Loughlin and Amico led the band in working the crowd into an ecstatic frenzy before ending the set.

After the crowd had sufficiently shaken the State Theatre with raucous applause, the band returned for an especially dark encore. They played the recently reintroduced "Conviction Song," a convict's lament of the waste his life has become. Finally, the boys closed the show with a rocking rendition of the classic Blue Oyster Cult ode to death "Don't Fear the Reaper" (although, unfortunately, Amico ignored Will Ferrell's pleas and failed to utilize the cowbell).

All things considered it was a great show; an eclectic mix of old school experimentation and tight new material. In addition, the scene was buzzing as the crowd brought plenty of energy.

Even skeptical Phish fan Emmett Knox '08 had to admit, "I was very impressed. They are all very talented and obviously work very hard." If Moe keeps it up they are clearly on their way to very big things.

**The band's name is almost always spelled 'moe.' but for grammatical purposes and clarity, its orthography has been edited for this article.