moe. & Chris Robinson Brotherhood 4.15 & 4.16.16
Words By Coleman Schwartz
Photos By Scott Shrader (J. Scott Shrader Photography)
Listening to moe. was one my very first forays into the jam scene back in 2010. I have always admired their songwriting and ability to improvise, in addition to the uniqueness of their sound. In recent years, I haven’t found myself listening to them as much as I ought to. There is so much else going on that I honestly had stopped thinking about them. The announcement of this run in the Northwest piqued my interest, and it seemed like a good chance to assess how the band was doing in 2016. With a couple of awesome venues and old-school psychedelic rockers, the Chris Robinson Brotherhood, co-headlining, it made perfect sense to road trip down to Portland from Seattle with some friends, then return the next day to catch the Seattle show.
-Friday April 15, 2016-
Returning to the Wonder, we walked in a few minutes before Chris Robinson Brotherhood took the stage. This was my first time seeing the band or any of its members perform, so there was a lot for me to take in musically. The first thing I have to mention is that Neal Casal is an absolute monster on guitar. I knew he had to be a fairly prodigious musician to be selected to compose all of the intermission music for ‘Fare Thee Well,’ but I had no idea of the full extent of his talent. I’m glad to say I won’t be sleeping on any more opportunities to see him perform.
As a group, CRB serves as a vibrant link to a bygone era, while still keeping things remarkably fresh and innovative. Their sound is an eclectic blend of psychedelic rock and Americana, but during the improvised sections they ventured into funkier territory. Keyboardist Adam MacDougall has found an extremely tasteful way to integrate the synthesizer into what the band is doing, and it helps push their jams in a spacier realm than I was expecting. Putting all of this together gives you an experience that is enjoyable to a diverse swatch of music listeners.
Although it was a co-headlining bill, CRB only played a single set. moe. was up next to unleash a full two-set performance. The sextet came onstage grooving and never stopped until set break. “Big World” opened up the festivities with some phenomenal Al Schnier falsetto crooning. The catchy vocal melody had everyone in the crowd getting down early in the set, with Chuck Garvey absolutely ripping the lead guitar part. The resulting jam eventually found its way to the Latin-infused grooves of “Ricky Marten,” a standard setlist pairing with “Big World.” This song saw Al taking on some additional lead duties, unencumbered by his vocals. Towards the end of this jam, bassist Rob Derhark authoritatively dropped the bassline to “Billy Goat” and moved the band forward into that song, as percussionist Jim Loughlin got his first chance to bust out his vibraphone. This song is centered around Rob’s vocals and bassline, and kept the show flowing outstandingly. Jim was tearing it up on the vibraphone during the jam, but still keeping to the back of the mix.
After a solid 25-minute opening frame, the band slowed things down a bit with “Do or Die,” another Rob-sung tune. This hard rocking song is more in the vein of Widespread Panic, and features some great screamed lines in Al’s vocals, which contrast the soft parts well. After a break to tune up, the group began to play the vocal intro to “Spine of a Dog,” causing the audience to break into cheers. This song’s nonsensical lyrics are beloved and memorized by most moe.rons, and getting the entire room singing along is one of the best ways to really get the party going.
Second set eased back in with a nice rendition of “Silver Sun,” before diving into “The Road.” This song saw the band unleash some of their amazing three-part vocal harmonies. Neither Rob, Al, nor Chuck is afraid to push their voice right up to (and sometimes past) its limit, and their fearlessness pays off in a big way at times like this. Their vocal style works so well for them, and as an added bonus is totally inimitable. I started to freak out during the jam because I saw Al take a seat and begin working on his keyboard. Surely enough, he began to tease out the opening melody to “The Pit,” doing so alone for a bit before Chuck and Rob joined in.
“The Pit” is one of my all-time favorite moe. songs, so I moved closer to the stage for a good look. Al uses a nice Rhodesy setting on his keyboard for the song’s riff while Chuck capably smashes the devilish guitar part on his own. This foreboding song is about hell and the devil, though the lyrics don’t go much deeper than that. It has a great, dark sound and usually gets really chaotic improvisation. This jam featured lots of vibraphone, until Rob took over the spotlight and started slapping. This paved the way for the band to move into “Timmy Tucker,” a classic tune that easily stretched over twenty minutes in this slot. It contained a few jams, each punctuated by Rob’s great vocal. The end of the composition saw the band jump right back into “The Road,” driving the crowd totally wild. The band kicked it into high gear to perfectly finish out this glorious second-set sandwich.
This was the most fun show I had seen moe. play in several years, and this warmed my heart. The world is a happier place to be when moe. is playing up to the high standards they have set for themselves, and as long as they can keep delivering like this I know that I will see a lot more of them in the future. I’ve seen them play a couple of underwhelming shows before, but this was one of the nights that accentuates the upside that always keeps me coming back.
Set One: Big World > Ricky Marten > Billy Goat, Do or Die, Spine Of A Dog > Buster > Cathedral
Set Two: Silver Sun, The Road > The Pit > Timmy Tucker > The Road, Wind It Up
Encore: Stranger Than Fiction, Downward Facing Dog
-Saturday April 16, 2016-
CRB is an interesting group because they are all older musicians, but the group itself is still young. Their history attracts a large portion of their fanbase, but this newer project frees them from many of the expectations. They have a safe place to experiment with new songs and styles of music, while still remaining true to their roots in a Grateful Dead-oriented Americana style. It is wonderful to see such new exploration from veteran musicians, because they are still pushing themselves and their boundaries onstage every night, and it keeps the experience novel for the fans.
Before moe. came onstage, Al’s double-neck Gibson SG was attracting lots of interest from audience members. Someone asked me if he would actually use it, I assured them he would. Surely enough, he came out and picked it up for the first song of the night, as the band opened with “Plane Crash.” This Rob-penned number is one of the group’s biggest crowd-pleasers because of its catchy chorus and the death-defying solo from Al. This was the perfect way for them to open the show because it captured the audience’s full attention from the first moment. They followed with an abrupt, jerky number that is aptly titled “Spaz Medicine.” This one did a great job of keeping up the energy, and it was clear that the band intended to close out this tour in style.
To close out the first set, the band invited Chris Robinson to join in on the fun with a cover of the Grateful Dead’s “Deal.” Chris capably handled the lead vocal on this track, and the crowd roared in appreciation. Seattle crowds tend to respond very well to Dead covers, and this occasion only served to reinforce that point. This was my first time seeing moe. do a Dead cover, and they delivered just as well as I knew they could! The band seemed to have a lot of fun having Chris onstage, and the room was all smiles as the set reached its conclusion.
The second set was a jammed-out, five song affair. They started off with “Awesome Gary,” and ripped through a nice funk jam before a patient segue into “32 Things,” which sent the crowd over the edge. Rob’s slap bass intro had people screaming, whistling and preparing to get down. As the song’s chaotic vocals made their entrance, the vibe inside of the venue was jubilant. Vinnie’s frenetic drumming initiated a great dance party that persisted throughout the jam and into the vocal/slap bass reprise.
Everyone enjoyed a well-deserved breather before the set continued. The next track started off with some heavy power chords before the reggae-tinged, slow groove of “Seat of My Pants” made itself apparent. Among moe. songs, I think this song is one of the most complete pieces of music. It showcases their trademark rapidfire vocals and harmonies, while giving each member several nice chances to show off their instrumental prowess. Chuck’s lead part is infectious, and gives the entire song a sound like the listener is flying uncontrollably through space. The improv reached a chaotic peak before the song descended back into Chuck’s beautiful tension-releasing lines, then the band thrashed briefly before moving onto the next verse. The next jam was much slower, and pointedly directed towards a deft segue into “Opium.” At this point, our photographer Scott (normally a very relaxed guy) seized the evening’s award for ‘most enthusiastic concert patron,’ by pretending to kick over a trash can at the rear of the venue. It just goes to show how hearing a favorite song can awaken your inner beast mode!
“Opium” is a slow-building moe. classic, and this version contained a jam that made me feel like I was wandering the desert in the heat of day with an empty canteen. This was caused by the heavy guitar delay as Chuck and Al bounced riffs back and forth. To close out the set, the band erputed into “Moth,” an interesting lyrical tune. The chorus astutely points out that moths “know everything about life,” but “nothing at all about living,” a fascinating quandary. After this one, the band had raged nearly up to the curfew. The crowd brought them back for a quick “Captain America” encore, and just like that the night had come to an end.
Set One: Plane Crash, Spaz Medicine, Mar-De-Ma > Bring It Back Home > California > Don't Fuck with Flo, Deal*
Set Two: Awesome Gary > 32 Things, Seat of My Pants > Opium, Moth
Encore: Captain America
* with Chris Robinson