Originally published in the February/March 2008 issue of State of Mind -- more info on the issue here
It's 11:20 on New Year's Eve at Radio City Music Hall and I'm scrambling around looking for a pen and a piece of paper. moe. has just finished their second set‚ and it inspired an abundance of thoughts that I want to… remember. This is what great live music does: it provokes ideas‚ it draws out personal reflection‚ and of course‚ in one way or another‚ it's a celebration.
moe.'s type of celebration is communal‚ and they deliver it in their own language and flow. They can tell a great story through both song choice and improvisational expression‚ and probably the most significant part of their growth as a band has been their ability to continuously add more substance and depth to the story over time.
That second of three sets at Radio City ended with the epic love song "Rebubula‚" and it turned the place loose. Chuck Garvey's guitar playing was scorching; the first note he played when they opened the song up felt like a shotgun blast. The band pushed more; he dug deeper. The cycle repeated‚ pushing the intensity: the crowd was pumping‚ up and down‚ back and forth‚ completely out of control‚ forcing the band to dig even deeper. The lights were going crazy‚ the energy was reeling‚ and it was a collective moment of elevation in the last hour of 2007. It's like everyone just got seriously beat up with love. Imagine going to a church where the god actually enjoys your company and encourages some sinning. It felt that good.
Everyone there seemed to really get it. But for the outside world‚ Garvey puts it into perspective: "moe.'s not for everyone‚ that's for sure." But what's so fascinating about moe. is how they can resonate with people in different ways. Most of their loyal fan base would say their forte is being an adventurous‚ live improvisational rock band. But then they put out studio albums that see mainstream critical acclaim. David Fricke of Rolling Stone is a good example‚ having reviewed several of the band's studio albums positively‚ including their newest‚ Sticks and Stones.
I talked to Garvey a few weeks before Sticks and Stones was released. He made it clear that this album was a different approach for moe.: limit the amount of time and a build it from ground up. It's a testament to moe's strength as a band that they can huddle away in a rented old church for three weeks and come out with eight new songs‚ two reworked‚ unreleased older songs‚ and have a concise roots rock album that is strong and fresh.
This is what the moe. dynamics are all about and why they're still winning at dodge ball against the trends of the music industry: they write good songs‚ they make good albums‚ and there's nothing like seeing them perform live. Stick and Stones is another accomplishment for a band that does everything independently and in their own way. It's left me feeling a lot like exactly a year ago when their last studio album‚ The Conch‚ was released: Yes‚ this will definitely last.
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Let's talk about playing Radio City for New Year's Eve. It was good to see you the second time around in that great room. How'd you feel about playing there?
Oh‚ it's great! Especially last year. We had such a good feeling after the show last year that we actually--I can't remember who said it--but we were talking about not playing there again for New Year's. Just because we didn't think we could top it. The crowd had such a great time. We were just thinking about the fact that it could… it could actually be a let down. [laughter] But really‚ that place is amazing. It's inspiring. It's fun. It felt like everyone had a good time‚ and it felt good to us again‚ too.
That's good to hear. I definitely had a good experience.
It's not too institutional of a place?
Oh‚ no‚ not at all.
Like to enjoy a show? [laughter]
No‚ not at all. I think it's a marriage between the two. The room sounds great‚ it has a ton of history‚ and then you have the moe. spirit come in to light the place up. And I think that works. I also think this year it seemed like you loosened up a lot quicker than last year. Maybe got over some of the pre-show jitters. I could be completely wrong‚ but…
Well‚ you know‚ when we go to places like that‚ we get a little… we're not nervous about it‚ but we kind of feel like we have to be really professional. And then after a while you realize that people coming to see us aren't coming to see professionals! [laughter] No‚ I'm just kidding. But do you know what I mean? You feel like you have to be a little bit more traditional. Or you kind of feel the weight of the tradition in a place like that. And that's really not the case. You're there to do your own thing.