moe. jam on in Lowell

A review of moe. at the Lowell Summer Music Series on July 22, 2011

, Staff Writer

Road warriors moe. made their way to the Lowell’s Boarding House Park on Friday as part of the Lowell Summer Music Series, bringing with them the hope of some respite from the ridiculous heat wave that Boston had been enduring. Luckily, the temperature had begun to drop by the time the band hit the stage, as throngs of moe.rons excitedly pushed forward. moe. provided two full sets’ worth of music, filled to the brim with lengthy jams, wild guitar solos and a dazzling light show.

The jam band’s opening set began somewhat unassumingly, with “Darkness”, a fairly slow-paced tune that never strayed too far from its musical origins, though moe. was quick to show off their chops, steadily speeding up the groove as guitarist Al Schnier laid down the first of the evening’s many impressive bouts of improvisation. And just like that, the band seamlessly transitioned into “Bearsong”, much to the delight of the crowd, who gave out a solid cheer at the end of every phrase, as is tradition.

The highlight of the first set, if not the entire show, came with a 20-minute performance of “She”. The beginning of the song gave no indication that this would turn out to be one of the longest jams of the evening, nor that it would end as powerfully as it did. Previous songs had been improvised on, sure, but moe. kept them somewhat restrained. The “She” jam began in similar style, but slowly began to evolve into its own beast as Schnier and co-guitarist Chuck Garvey shared the long-form improv burden. After a short bit of noodling, the band started to ramp up the intensity, in no small part thanks to the tenacious percussion of Jim Loughlin and Vinnie Amico, laying down a dense backbeat filled with cymbals, snares, congas and xylophone. For a solid ten minutes, Schnier and Garvey played the crap out of their instruments, not shy to bust out the wah-wah pedal, building to a grand climax that gave way to a small bass solo from Rob Derhak.

The rest of the set was still impressive, though moe. never quite reached the peak that they did with “She”, even in the second set, which usually sees its fair share of intense jams. Given the heat, though, it’s understandable that moe. would want to pace themselves, as well as the audience. The final 40 minutes of the set were played without stopping, and moe. transition so well that if there weren’t lyrical portions to separate one song from the other, an untrained ear would have simply heard an endless jam. “Dr. Gaffenberg” closed out the first set, featuring some impressively fast xylophone playing from Loughlin. moe. definitely ramped up the intensity for this tune, and the audience was sure to let them know that their efforts were appreciated.

After a quick setbreak, the band hit the stage again, opening with “Sticks and Stones”, a very laid-back tune that would ultimately seem to set the pace for the rest of the evening. The second set felt much more song-based, rather than jam-based, than the first. In fact, only two songs were really extensively jammed on – “Opium” and “Timmy Tucker” – though the band did open up “Tambourine” a bit. Of course, “extensively jam” for a band like moe. means stretching a song past the 10 minute mark. By most other band’s indications, they jammed through every tune.

“Opium”‘s length wasn’t necessarily warranted, though. It’s a very slow tune, and though the guitarists did have some interesting licks here and there, audience attention seemed to wane as it stretched on for 12 minutes or so.

“Downward Dog” also boasted some pretty interesting musical ideas. The band took it well beyond its starting point, eventually having to slowly transition their way back into the original tune. The set ended with a lengthy jam out of “Timmy Tucker”, a guitar solo battle that was probably ultimately won by Schnier. Garvey, however, did deliver a few cool moments on slide guitar.

After thanking the crowd, moe. launched into their encore of “The Pit”, a song appropriately about fire and things being hot, and “Not Coming Down”. It was a nice ending that tied everything up neatly, leaving the audience pleased, and much cooler than when the show had started.

moe. are one of those bands who are able to play for nearly three hours and never really get all that stale. Even if the second set wasn’t necessarily as intense as the first, it was still filled with some fantastic music. Not to mention, listening to the interplay between the band members is a rewarding experience in and of itself. This is a group of guys who have been together for more than 20 years and they’ve got jamming down like a finely-tuned machine, managing to transform songs and communicate with each other like it’s the easiest thing in the world. It helps that every member has killer chops, too.

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