It's been a strange path for moe. Few bands from the group's peer-set have been able to forge such a singular path toward success without compromising along the way.
This band, however, built its fan-base via touring, and managed to stick to its artistic guns despite major fluctuations in taste, trend, and music business machinations. Twenty years in, there's something pure about moe. The band has integrity.
Formed in Buffalo when guitarist Chuck Garvey and bassist Rob Derhak met while students at UB, moe. quickly became our city's "jam band" before anyone had even come up with that descriptive. Music-lovers in these parts who were of clubbing age in the first years of the '90s remember seeing the band honing its nascent craft at the Scrapyard or Broadway Joe's; within a few years, the band had become a force to be reckoned with, its left-of-center blend of Frank Zappa, the Dead and early Phish emerging as a unique hybrid.
On Friday, moe. came home -- though the band members don't live around here anymore, having settled in the Tri-State area -- for the first of two shows as part of Buffalo Place Rocks the Harbor.
The Erie Canal Harbor area was packed with a broad age-range of fans, as a mild breeze blew across the water, a friendly sun beamed above, and a general air of levity prevailed. Garvey, Derhak, guitarist Al Scnier, percussionist Jim Loughlin, and drummer Vinnie Amico may not call Buffalo home anymore, but Buffalonians are still eager to claim them as their own.
Prior to moe.'s entrance, one-man jam-band Keller Williams took the stage to do his thing, and the already mostly full house greeted him with open arms. Williams gig is this -- he uses samplers, looping devices, and his own abundant talent to create a sort of funk-folk symphony in real time. In past Buffalo appearances, he's taken the stage, laid down a funky acoustic guitar riff, sampled and looped it, and then proceeded to create an overdubbed mini-symphony right there in front of the crowd. That was still the modus operandi this time around, but Williams centered his performance on Friday around his bass playing, and the attendant percussion loops he'd create around it.
Serious musicians -- from members of the Grateful Dead to jazz/funk/bluegrass maestro Victor Wooten -- are hip to Williams' genius. So, it seems, was the audience on Friday; most seemed abundantly familiar with the man's material, cognizant of the ridiculous technical facility necessary to pull it off, and hungry for the slammin' grooves that facility was able to translate. All of this hit a peak when moe.'s Schnier took the stage armed with an acoustic guitar, which he ran through a lush, warm auto-wah.
Schnier's comping was seamless, and his solos uber-cool. When the pair played "Celebrate your Youth," young and old alike did exactly that. This was moe.'s homecoming gig, though, and the band -- most appropriately -- came to kill it. The first set started heavy, and got heavier, as guitarists Garvey and Schnier traded solos through gorgeous guitar tones. The effect was not unlike what one imagines the Allman Brothers Band might sound like jamming on a funk-based Phish tune. The groove supplied by Amico and Loughlin was the cornerstone, Derhak's playing the cement, and the twin Garvey/Schnier improv the structure itself.
"OK Alright" came on strong from the get-go, and evolved into a spirited jam section with tasty solos from both guitarists. "Sticks and Stones" continued this idea, though it added more harmonic movement, and thus, more space for the soloists to explore. Second set brought a bit more of the ambient, groove-oriented, dance-based stuff that moe. is so capable of, and eased the crowd toward its collective peak. This was all tuned masterfully.
moe. did us proud.
> Concert Review
With Keller Williams.
Friday evening at Buffalo Place Rocks the Harbor, Erie Canal Harbor.
Also, 5 p.m. today with Donna the Buffalo.
Tickets are $20 at the gate www.buffaloplace.com .