moe. : Norva, Norfolk, VA 1.29.04

When RANA ended their opening set of retro-new-wave rock, I couldn’t help but contemplate just how this band, who seemed to be more suitable to an opening slot on the next Strokes tour, ended up as a warm-up for the quirkiest jamband on the planet. Their straight-ahead rock sound was catchy, to be sure, but certainly not what one would expect under the circumstances. From the looks on the faces surrounding me, many in the audience were pondering similar questions.

All the disappointed, noodle-hungry jamsters were soon placated, however, as moe. took the stage and, after a few moments of indecision, blasted into the hyperkinetic reggae of “Threw It All Away.” Like a few other numbers throughout the course of the first set, this one stretched itself a little thin, but a few moments of aimless meandering were par for the course. Bassist Rob Derhak gave a nod to all the local “she-crab eatin’ motherfuckers” in the audience with “Crab Eyes,” a complex number with a hard-driving, tricky bass beat and underlying Zappa-esque xylophone runs. Three different, layered vocals threw a lyrical curveball, but one would think that after years of songwriting and performing, they could come up with a slightly better chorus than “Boom, boom, boom. Bang, bang, bang.”

Blue Oyster Cult’s “Godzilla,” however, fits moe.’s idiosyncratic lyrical sense and solid rock foundation perfectly, and after the evening’s second uninspired instrumental tangent, complete with an ill-advised attempt at keyboard enhancement by guitarist Al Schnier, Chuck Garvey’s fluid fretwork finally took the reins and pulled the band back together for a big rock and roll finish. “Lost Along the Way,” a ballad that could stand a touch-up, brought things down again before they launched into the rocking, sing-along thump of “Plane Crash,” one of their best tunes. The quintet deftly merged their ode to aviophobia with “Not Coming Down,” creating a cleverly structured double punch to close an average first set on a high note.

While the first set had a few too many get-on-with-it moments, the second set showed moe. at their improvisational best. There were a few short-lived instances when notes and ideas seemed to be left stranded on the highway, but they were few and far between. Old favorite “Brent Black” flowed seamlessly into the heavy metal edginess of “Meat,” which in turn morphed into “Bitter End.” “Yodelittle” followed, and after a long, transcendent jam, found itself tripping gracefully over the opening notes to “Buster,” one of moe.’s most beautiful epics. As this gorgeous composition faded into its own peculiar brilliance and began losing momentum, the band picked it up again for a reprise of “Plane Crash,” a fitting closer to sandwich the second set. Even the encore, “Sensory Deprivation Bank,” which may not have lived up to the possibilities of all its open-ended glory, could not take anything away from the glorious second set.

While moe. have retained their ability to spaz-out over reggae-tinged rock and roll riffs, they have also finally learned to chill out. Their live show used to drive steadily over a long, flat highway of Ritalin-child guitar solos and bland exploration over unchanging bass lines, but the boys from Buffalo seem to have finally learned the subtle distinction between jamming and improvising. Let’s hope their attentions span a little wider than a child on Christmas morning, because it would be a shame for them to lose interest in this new toy.

photos by Robert Massie, courtesy of

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