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Friday, January 18 , 2019, 11:30 pm | Fair 50º


Jeff Moehlis: moe. Brings Jam Show to Ventura

Gimme some moe. really was word on everyone's lips

Is it possible that “jam bands” are back in fashion? Phish, which broke up in 2004, has reunited and is currently on tour.  Even genre godfathers
The Grateful Dead have reunited as The Dead — at least, as much as possible, since Jerry Garcia is, well, dead.

You might say that President Obama brought back The Dead: The band reunited to support his campaign, and even played at his inauguration. But even he can’t bring back Captain Trips.

But stalwart jam band, moe. — yes, the name is all lower case and includes the period — never really went away. Formed in 1991 in Buffalo, N.Y., moe. has been jamming for almost two decades now.

moe. certainly has musical and cultural similarities to Phish and The Grateful Dead — all feature extended jams in concert, all have different set lists that draw from their whole career for each show, all encourage fans to tape shows, and all have devoted followers (Phishheads, Dead Heads, moe.rons). However, moe. never quite achieved the same level of fame as the others — for example, Ben and Jerry’s offers Phish Food and Cherry Garcia, but I don’t recall ever eating moe.nuts or something like that.

In case you had doubts about moe.‘s closest musical kin, it was clear from the laid-back crowd’s garb at Friday night’s moe. show at the Majestic Ventura Theater: While most attendees wore moe. T-shirts (complemented by hats, and probably ponytails and baggy shorts), Grateful Dead and Phish T-shirts were also in abundance.

moe.‘s music is best described as improvisation-heavy guitar-based jamming, with songs that regularly stretch out to 10 or more minutes. The band — Rob Derhak (bass, vocals), Chuck Garvey (guitar, vocals), Al Schnier (guitars, vocals, minimoog), Vinnie Amico (drums) and Jim Loughlin (percussion, including vibes) — has a right-on balance of tightness and looseness that can only come from years of playing together. Guitars dominate, with each guitarist having a different yet complementary style: Garvey solos with a more sustained, distorted sound, while Schnier is more
subtle and atmospheric.

As with other jam bands and unlike most direct blues-based bands, the guitars solos draw much more from major than minor scales.

One hears elements of other bands in moe.‘s sound: from Allman Brothers’ twin lead guitars, to Frank Zappa-esque precision, to Phish- or Grateful Dead-style jamming. There was even some Talking Heads-ish funk, and a few Budgie-worthy riffs at the concert. The magic of moe. is in the blend, how the elements of such bands and other influences merge together to give a fresh, good-time sound.

moe.‘s stage set is impressive, being dominated by custom guitar amps (Oldfield, Epifani, Bruno), copious guitar effects and pedals, an array of drums and percussion including vibes, and a few scarcely used keyboards. One must also mention the apropos light show, with flashes, swirls and colors expertly matched to the music.

It takes some aural and physical stamina to make it through a moe. show. The songs blend into each other, so it kind of seems like they just played one multipart song per set. But the moe.-friendly crowd in Ventura managed to bounce, play air guitar, and, mostly, free-form dance throughout the evening.

Those who wanted to relive the experience could buy a $15 USB drive with a soundboard recording of the show. Wouldn’t it be great if all bands gave you this option?

(Songs according to phantasytour.com):
Hi and Lo
Big World, Deep This Time
Water, Akimbo
Lost Along the Way
San Ber’dino
The Road
Armageddon Jig
Strychnine Waltz
Timmy Tucker
Buster, Down Boy
The Road
The Pit

Wind it up

Noozhawk contributor Jeff Moehlis is an associate professor of mechanical engineering at UCSB.

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