moe. scores an F in grammer but earns an A in jamming

By Sam Robertson

Kicking off the New Year with a new album and tour, moe. performed in front of a packed crowd at First Avenue on Sunday night. moe. emerged on the music scene in the early 1990s, highly influenced by the improvisational jam style of the Grateful Dead and Allman Brothers. Throughout the 1990s, moe. proved themselves as one of the leaders of a new “jamband” scene that developed as the Grateful Dead began to fade away. Although they were overshadowed by contemporaries Phish and String Cheese Incident, moe. has outlasted those bands and is still as good as ever. moe.’s new album, “Sticks and Stones,” represents a bit of a change for the band. For their entire career, moe. has been known as a band that puts on a terrific live show but puts very little effort into their studio albums. For a change, moe. put more effort into “Sticks and Stones.” For the first time, they didn’t play the songs live before recording the album, which means this tour is the first time some of these songs were played live. At First Avenue, the band debuted some new songs while also showcasing some older classics.

Because most of their studio albums are nothing special, moe. pours all their effort into their live show. The band took the stage shortly after 9 and didn’t wrap up until around 1 in the morning, showing how committed they are to satisfying their audience. Shows that long are certainly not common, but moe. has been making a living by doing that for 15 years, and they haven’t tired of it yet. For such a long show, moe. played remarkably few songs. They managed to make just 16 songs (including 3 new songs) last over three hours. moe. is in no rush to go anywhere, and it’s not unusual for a couple 20 minute songs to pop up throughout the show. The band’s sound stems from simple rock and blues but is done with a psychedelic, improvisational touch.

moe. is famous for the twin lead guitars of Al Schnier and Chuck Garvey, and they didn’t disappoint during the show. Schnier and Garvey are two of the best guitarists in rock today, and to have both of them in the same band results in some mindblowing guitarwork. It’s typical for Garvey and Schnier to trade off solos for up to ten minutes in the middle of a song, and when they do, it’s often the highlight of the night. Sunday night, they weren’t shy about showing off, and their playing stunned the crowd. Equally talented is Rob Derhak, the band’s bassist and lead singer. First Avenue has great acoustics, and it was the perfect venue for Derhak to show off his talents. With his funky basslines bouncing off the walls, he got the crowd dancing and provided a rock solid foundation for Schnier and Garvey to improvise over.

To be honest, moe.’s lyrics and singing leave something to be desired. The singing isn’t bad, but Derhak’s voice is nothing special. Like the band they are most often compared to, Phish, moe.’s lyrics range from humorous and fun to downright bad and sometimes are only there to give the band’s noodling jams a little structure.
When I listen to music, I usually judge a band on three things – their instrumental skill, vocals, and songwriting. moe. fail at two of those three things. However, their collective instrumental skills are so great that it more than makes up for their deficiencies.

When moe. is at their best – with Schnier and Garvey improvising simultaneously and perfectly synced up with the brilliant psychedelic laser light show, and the band’s rhythm section pushing everything forward to a breakneck speed – there is nothing better. moe. was at their best on Sunday night, and even though it was a weeknight, the packed crowd was so captivated that nobody dared to leave early. They are undoubtedly an acquired taste, but moe. are an extremely talented band that are among the best at what they do.