Live Review: moe. @ Frederick Fairgrounds — 11/7/20

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moe. performs at the Frederick County Fairgrounds on Nov. 7, 2020. (Photo by Casey Vock)

American flags were hoisted high in the air Saturday night at drive-in out at Frederick County Fairgrounds and music lovers from the DMV seemed to be, for the most part, celebrating a day that marked a shift to a new presidential administration — at least tentatively.

And who better to host such an ordeal than moe.? One of the country’s most seasoned touring jam bands of the last several decades, moe. scheduled the show just a few weeks back as their last of the year and arrived as the perfect candidate to celebrate what felt like an All-American kind of night at another “Showtime at the Drive In” presentation hosted by All Good Presents and Baltimore Soundstage.

Built on compositions influenced by the sounds of funk, jazz, country and all forms of rock-and-roll, moe. formed at the University of Buffalo in 1989 and by the mid-’90s had built a following in Upstate New York and throughout the northeast. The band became a mainstay at major festivals, performing at the Woodstock ’99 and making five appearances at Bonnaroo.

For years, the band has hosted its own festival, moe.down, at a ski resort on the Tug Hill Plateau in Northern New York, just east of the Adirondacks. The eclectic lineup through the years speaks to a band that has made a lot of friends and earned the respect of other musicians over the course of three decades.

Since their early days as a college party band, moe.’s songs have been thick with bass, giving way to heavy instrumentation led by spiraling, dueling guitar progressions that somehow still projects the sounds of distinct genres, like rockabilly, electronica and even monster rock.

Made up of the same five New York State natives that have comprised the band’s core since 1999, moe. drew a large crowd to Frederick for two sets of music pulled mostly from moe.’s releases in the 2000s and 2010s and a couple from the newest release, This is Not, We Are. Jokingly known as “moe.rons,” moe.’s devoted fans earned their nickname over the years as the band grew from its Northeast fanbase to a coast-to-coast following, and many of them drove in from out of town to take in the show at the fairgrounds.

Front man and bass player Rob Derhak, who was treated for and overcame nasopharyngeal cancer in 2017, is the heart and soul of moe. A jolly albeit imposing figure, it’s Rob’s engrossing presence — a wide grin that hasn’t faded even through his health challenges, fingers as rubbery as ever — and his delightful voice that help give moe. shows an unmistakable feel.

That vibe was fitting on Nov. 7 — a crisp and clear night as the band kicked off with “Captain America,” a moe. classic that was appropriate for the occasion and one that captures their energetic blend of improvised instrumentation and playful lyrics. “May be right, may be wrong, I’m in the middle anyway,” seemed like an entertaining message to anyone who was struggling with the political turmoil roiling the country.

Watch moe. perform “Captain America” live in 2014 via YouTube:

Flanked on each arm by guitar players of otherworldly abilities, it seemed that Rob’s bass lines, the early trademark in moe. tunes, serve as the avenue for the incredible interplay between shredder Chuck Garvey, one of the band’s founding members, and Al Schnier, a fellow Utica area guy, talented multi-instrumentalist and sound engineer who joined the band in 1992.

Drummer Vinnie Amico, a member dating back to 1996, is the consummate professional, blowing bubbles and hammering away with a studious expression on the drive-in stage as if he was programmed, barely looking a day older than he did in his first days with the band.

Meanwhile, percussionist Jim Laughlin — who left the band in the ’90s but returned several years later — added the element of surprise and unpredictability to moe. with his xylophone, vibraphone and an assortment of other devices.

The first set gave way to another moe. staple, “Mexico,” which served as a kind of commentary on the state of aimlessness in our country with the chorus line “and I don’t even know where I am.”

The band dipped into more contemporary cuts, like “The Pines and The Apple Trees,” a tune with bluegrass and pop characteristics, and then performed three straight songs with only segues in between: “Don’t Want To Be” into “Bullet” and into a “Down Boy” with an incredible solo by Chuck. The first set closed with “New Hope for the New Year,” a chance for Chuck to sing and a chance for Jim to explore the spectrum with his xylophone and other tools.

Returning to the stage for the second set, Rob had donned a custom-embroidered NASA jacket and Al quickly took the lead on the mic for “Kicking and Screaming,” a track Al wrote calling out the U.S. government with an assortment of strong lines, like “the swamp it just thickens,” and “so you don’t like the facts and you change the story.”

Another moe. classic, “Waiting for the Punchline,” featured Rob’s signature slaps and Al’s voice at its best in creating a more straight ahead rock sound that steered into a frolicking hoe-down before twirling back to meet in a rapid ascension of electric chords.

The midway point of the second set, the new release “Along for the Ride,” was highlighted by the bouncing, bass heavy rhythm that has helped give moe. its texture since their earliest albums like Fatboy (1992) and Headseed.(1994). But like most of moe.’s jams, the song features sounds running concurrently before ultimately crashing into one another in a way that feels predestined but unique each time.

Watch Along for the Ride with moe. from the studio and live from Revolution Hall in Portland, Oregon, on YouTube:

A band that has been playing about 60 shows a year but was playing together for only the twentieth time in 2020 due to the pandemic, moe. proved that they are still as musically sharp as they were two decades ago, their sound just as colorful, captivating and refreshing.

Setlist

Set 1
Captain America>
Mexico
The Pines and the Apple Trees
Don’t Want To Be>
Bullet>
Down Boy
New Hope For The New Year

Set 2
Screaming & Kicking>
Waiting For the Punchline
Along For The Ride
Tailspin>
Meat>
Don’t Fuck With Flo

Encore
Seat Of My Pants

Here are photos of moe. performing at the Frederick County Fairgrounds on Nov. 7, 2020. Photos courtesy of and copyright Casey Vock

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