Despite moe.’s understated name, it appears that they wouldn’t mind being the next big jamband — just examine the evidence on “Warts and All IV,” their upcoming live release. They’re neither afraid to cover jamband icons The Grateful Dead’s “I Know You Rider,” nor are they afraid to make like Phish and cover a traditional Jewish standard like “Havah Negilah.” Their liner notes liken the fivesome — bassist/singer Rob Derhak, guitarist/singer Chuck Garvey, guitarist/keyboardist/singer Al Schnier, drummer Vinnie Amico and percussionist Jim Loughlin — to a fine microbrew. It’s just cute and Vermont enough to make any hippie feel warm and fuzzy inside.
One more thing, the band claims on their website that they have “topped such peers as … Phish” by winning three Jammy awards. While their confidence is admirable, there is no fucking way that moe. is superior to Phish. Still, the “jamband community” needs an act to follow now that Phish is gone. Judging by the scent of patchouli that could be detected nearly a block away from the Michigan Theatre on Friday night, it seems that moe. is doing a decent job of gathering some of the stragglers.
The cozy atmosphere of the venue was perfect for the kind of fans that love to be buddy-buddy with the band, and as moe. took the stage, one dude yelled “Rob is weird!” while another prodded, “Why’d you grow a beard, Al?”
The opening song “Bullet,” for example, featured a steady, thumping bass line and a catchy chorus but was plagued by two long-winded jams. Even though moe. was using the second as a segue into a fast and funky tune called “Brent Black,” it sounded like they knew where they were going, but weren’t quite sure how to get there.
In fact, the first three songs of the night served as a model for the rest of the show. “Brent Black” was perfect from start to finish and featured an impressive percussion solo — Rob Derhak at one point climbed up to the percussion kit and allowed Loughlin to hammer out a rhythm on his bass. Sadly, the band couldn’t illicit the same wows with their next song, “Opium,” a slower tune that served as more of a smoke break than anything else.
The same fluctuation from perfection to mediocrity occurred in the second set. The band tore through a sporadic and psychedelic instrumental called “McBain” and slid right into “Down Boy,” a song full of synth bleeps and clicks courtesy of keyboardist Al Schnier. Killing the momentum, though, was a slow, crowd-thinning number called “Hi and Lo.” At that point .the time was nearing 10:30 p.m., and though many fans remained to see the rest of the show, there were quite a few who didn’t have the patience to see if the band would kick out some more funk.
Therein lies the problem in a jamband like moe. — it took them almost three hours to play 13 songs. While a more consistent band like Phish could pull off that kind of extensive improvisation, moe. simply isn’t tight enough yet. If the band could only realize that they excel at funky, beat-driven jams but falter with slower, more basic tunes, maybe someday they can take the jamband throne — but it isn’t happening anytime soon.