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moe. performs uneven concert at Calvin Theater

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Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian

Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian

Last Sunday night, jam band moe. rolled into the Calvin Theater in Northampton. The moe. faithful, lovingly dubbed “moe.rons,” came out in droves, even if they did not quite fill the venue to capacity. And its fans are certainly doting: with one fan remarking before the show: “I just found out there are people that don’t like moe.! I didn’t know that was possible!”

The crowd was a solid mix of younger jam band fans and older fans that have been around the band since its inception in 1989. It was certainly a more hippyish and earthy crowd than those who flock to see jam bands that mix in more electronic elements, like Umphrey’s McGee and The Disco Biscuits.

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Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian

moe.’s first set started off well with a 15-minute version of “Moth,” an upbeat, Southern-rock tinged jam with sweet, harmonized guitar licks. Guitarists Chuck Garvey and Al Schnier demonstrated nice interplay that would continue to impress for the rest of the night.

After this exceptional start, the crowd seemed anxious for more of the same. Unfortunately, the first set went downhill from there. The band was pretty laid back for the entire set, and lacked the necessary energy to really rip open some of its songs. On top of that, its song choices were not all winners. “Suck a Lemon,” off their latest, 2012 LP “What Happened to the La La’s,” was a distorted mess.

The saving grace of the first set was the world music influenced “Bring It Back Home.” Afro-pop and Caribbean influences blended together to create a bouncy, lively tune, and the very technical, 7/8 breakdown in the middle was incredibly groovy. The set was short, clocking in at just under an hour, and it was obvious that the crowd was looking for a great second set.

The second set began with a cover of Pink Floyd’s “Money,” and featured Shannon Lynch on saxophone. Though it was not the most thrilling opener the band could have picked, the second set really blossomed with the next few songs, including the epic, 17-minute, “McBain.” “McBain” is incredibly technical and was executed very tightly. A mesmerizing vibes solo and some intricate guitar work really helped to open the song up.

Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian

Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian

moe. was finally ready to bring intensity to its performance, and the crowd definitely took notice, as all conversation stopped and full attention was paid to the band on stage. The show continued on this high, never rising to too great a peak but finally at the level of fans’ expectations. Near the end of the set, the jamming became increasingly exploratory, while occasionally lacking in interplay between the instruments.

Musically, moe. is a very guitar-centric band. Garvey and Schnier drive the music, whether it is scripted or improvisational. But that is not to say the other members do not play a part in creating moe.’s sound. Bassist Rob Derhak and drummer Vinnie Amico are a solid rhythm section that lay down a sturdy foundation for the guitarists to spin off of. Multi-instrumentalist Jim Loughlin is the surprising MVP of moe. His abilities on the MalletKat, a MIDI percussion instrument that simulates the vibraphone and marimba, among other sounds, are impressive, and add a unique ambience to moe.’s music that allows it to escape out of the realm of generic guitar rock. Luckily, Garvey, Schnier and Derhak are all capable singers, a rarity for a jam band. moe. is often genre-defying, hopping from roots rock to spacey prog-rock to heavy, blues-based numbers.

moe.’s improvisation exercises are usually hot or cold. Sometimes the jamming really works, but other times it turns into meandering noodling. moe. is at its best when the rhythm section sets a deep groove and the guitars play around in it, working together to elevate the jam to another level.

Inconsistency is truly moe.’s biggest issue. The band has either moments of transcendence in its jams or stagnant jams that have the listener checking their watch to see how much longer they will have to endure it.

Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian

Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian

In the end, my mind was not blown and my face was not melted, but I understood how “moe.rons” could devote a great part of their life to following the band. moe. makes music for good times that lets the listener forget about their problems. Sometimes you need to overlook the inconsistencies and let yourself sway to the music.

Ryan Kaplan can be reached at [email protected]

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