Jam band moe. at home on the road


February 18, 2005



More than many groups in the often-flatulent jam-band genre, Buffalo, N.Y.'s moe. builds its more meandering and indulgent live excursions from a solid foundation of strong songwriting, much of it rooted in Southern rock, the arena anthems of '70s Pink Floyd and Frank Zappa's gonzo but tuneful progressive rock.

Bassist-vocalist Rob Derhak, guitarists-vocalists Al Schnier and Chuck Garvey and drummer Vinnie Amico -- augmented onstage by percussionist and former drummer Jim Loughlin -- often garner comparisons to Phish, and not without reason. Phish hosted big outdoor festivals; moe. presents the "moe.down." Phish was known for its onstage silliness; the members of moe. once dressed like characters from "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory." Phish performed covers of albums by favorite bands on Halloween; so does moe.



  • 8 p.m. Saturday
  • Aragon, 1106 W. Lawrence
  • Tickets, $25 (18-over show)
  • (312) 559-1212


  • Of course, Phish isn't around anymore, so who's to complain? And where Phish failed ever to make a studio album that captured an audience beyond the jam-band nation, moe. hopes one day to create a classic to stand beside "The Dark Side of the Moon."

    I spoke to Derhak as the group made its way to Chicago the morning after performing a benefit in New York that raised more than $150,000 for tsunami victims.

    Q. You guys are building a loyal fan base through touring, and that's increasingly rare in the music industry these days.

    A. It is? I didn't know there was another way of doing it! [Laughs] But I think the only way to do this is by touring and running your own label. Obviously, there's not that huge label support where you can get played on the radio and get on "Letterman" or whatever. Lack of funds is the downside, but whatever we make, we just take a salary as a band and the rest goes in to building the organization.

    Q. Did you look at similar organizations like the Dave Matthews Band or the Grateful Dead when you decided to start your own label, Fatboy Records?

    A. They were definitely models. We looked at the Dead, Phish, Dave Matthews, and they're all bands with great business sense. Our manager has been working with us since college, and just about everybody who works with us learned how to do the job and kind of created the position themselves. Now, tons of young upstarts -- and we're not that old! -- come to us and ask our words of advice. It all starts with being able to play -- first off, you have to be a band -- and after that, you're better off doing it yourself. You don't have to sell a million albums in order to survive when you're making all the profit as opposed to the record company taking all the profit. If you're a good band, you'll get a following.

    Q. The last studio album, "Wormwood," was released in 2003. Are you planning on going back into the studio any time soon?

    A. We just put out our fourth in a series called "Warts and All," which is a live series where we pick a show we're especially proud of and put that out, and we're shooting a concert DVD in April at the Fillmore in Denver. But as far as a studio album goes, we've had two writing sessions, we have a lot of material to pick from and we're looking at going into the studio some time this summer.

    Q. How do you distinguish the studio experience from live performances?

    A. You have to separate the worlds. To go into the studio and say, "I'm going to try to play like I play in concert," that's not going to work when there's no interaction with an audience. We tried to do something a little different with our last album: Our show consists of a lot of segues between songs, trying to be as experimental as we can while keeping people's interest, so we attempted to do that by mixing live and studio recordings.

    Q. Much like the Dead on "Anthem of the Sun."

    A. Exactly. But the other thing is when you're going into the studio, if all you have is a jam, it's not going to be great. You have to have something that if you strip down all of the extraneous solos, there's still something there that's interesting. I'm a fan of the epic album.

    Q. The band has covered "The Dark Side of the Moon" by Pink Floyd. Do you think moe. has an album like that in it?

    A. I like to think so. That's our goal: Before I die, I'd like to have something out there that's so distinctly its own sound.

    Q. You're compared to Phish a lot. Is that fair?

    A. They were definitely one of our inspirations, but I would say there are probably hundreds of others. I don't mind the comparison so much because it's a good one, but I was a huge Zappa fan, and still am. I grew up listening to him, so I had that sort of sense of humor about music, and I liked strong instrumental sections that were quirky and difficult to play. That's where I got a lot of my inspiration in the old days.

    Look to Web for Bonham that can't be beat

    Because of his massively heavy but consistently subtle and flowing grooves, Led Zeppelin's John Bonham stands as the greatest drummer rock 'n' roll ever produced. His influence isn't limited to that genre, either: Bonzo is probably the most-sampled percussionist in history, second only perhaps to Clyde "the Funky Drummer" Stubblefield from James Brown's band. Now, an amazing new resource for home mix-masters and sample artists has surfaced in the form of a bounty of isolated drum tracks and outtakes from Zep's "In Through the Out Door"; you can hear the pure drumming in all of its power and glory, right down to the squeak of the bass drum pedal. I first heard the tracks at www.disndat.info/bonham/; by the time you read this, that site will probably have crashed or been shut down, but the audio snippets will no doubt have proliferated across the Web, so a quick Google search should turn them up. For drum geeks and Zepheads, this is the best gift since 2003's "The Led Zeppelin DVD."

    Also playing in heavy rotation: "Roxy Re-Modeled" (BasicLUX), a collection of 13 classics by glam-rockers Roxy Music remade by cutting-edge electronic dance artists such as Sunday People, Perfect Project and Abstract Foundation. Hmmm, maybe somebody can merge Bonham and Roxy; now there's a thought!