moe. brought their spring tour into the central southwest this year for a run of dates that included the legendary Cain’s Ballroom, the “Home of Bob Wills.”
This was moe.’s first trip back to Oklahoma since 2016’s Backwoods Festival, and their first time back to Cain’s Ballroom since the spring of 2010. I’d last seen the band shortly after moving to Oklahoma at Cain’s back on 02/26/06. I’m not really sure how I missed the shows over the next couple of years, though it was likely just a combination of life and responsibilities, something the guys in moe. understand all too well.
“We’ve been through some shit,” was guitarist/vocalist Al Schnier’s assessment while addressing the Tulsa audience. Indeed. Over the past couple of years, moe. has been through some shit. The band took a hiatus back in August of 2017, while bassist/vocalist Rob Derhak received successful treatments for oropharyngeal cancer allowing them to return to the stage in 2018. Then Covid hit, essentially ending touring for a couple of years. As things began to look hopeful for a return to normalcy, guitarist/vocalist Chuck Garvey suffered a serious, debilitating stroke in November of 2021.
As Garvey began his recovery, moe. headed back out on the road with his blessing, enlisting Suke Cerulo (Schleigho) to fill in for Garvey’s absence. This past New Years Eve show at the Fillmore Philadelphia saw Chuck’s triumphant return to the band, with an announcement of his permanent return and subsequent tour here in 2023.
Make no mistake, Garvey is still recovering. He’s had to relearn guitar, and is still working on the task of singing his songs. His speech is slower and more deliberate, and for now his vocals are strictly background harmonies. Truthfully, it’s odd not hearing a couple of blazing Chuck tunes, but it sure seems just having Garvey back on stage has revitalized the band. In an effort to better round out the sound, moe. has also added longtime collaborator, Nate Wilson’s keyboard talents to the fold full-time, which also adds a new and fresh dimension to moe’s future.
Playing their customary two set show, the band is currently having a different member write a unique setlist each night. Tonight’s was courtesy of bassist/vocalist Rob Derhak, and saw him take the opening song, a seemingly unusual opener of “Buster” kicking things off for a show that had me grinning ear to ear nearly the entire evening. The setlist was heavy on material from their 2007 release, The Conch with 4 of the night’s 14 songs represented all within the second set. (“The Road,” “Blue Jeans Pizza,” “The Pit” and an encore of “Tailspin.”) It’s one of my favorite albums, so no complaints here. There were also a pair from another favorite, 2001’s Dither, as well as a pair of cover songs, Deep Purple’s “Space Truckin’” (with multi-instrumentalist Jim Loughlin on vocals, and a tasty rendition of The Allman Brothers Band’s “Jessica.” Toss in a few randoms from other albums old and new, as well as a smattering of inspired jams and teases (that slow bluesy “St. Stephen” jam during ATL was absolute fire.) and this was just a great night of musicianship and improvisation.
Overall, I found the second set energy was more constant and inspired, but it was just a wonderful thing watching the night’s music unfold song after song once again. Having not seen the band during the past decade or so, I found myself genuinely shocked with how quickly I was still able to identify songs and segues. The evening’s standouts for me were “Faker,” “Blue Jeans Pizza” and “The Pit.” I loved watching drummer Vinnie Amico and percussionist Loughlin play off one another throughout the night. There’s lots of bands that have followed the Grateful Dead’s and The Allman Brothers Band’s lead of having two drummers over the years, but few do it as well as Amico and Loughlin. But mostly, what stuck with me the most, was how great it was seeing Garvey and Derhak, a pair of survivors, back at it, doing what they love. This could have turned out much differently, and I’ve no doubt that each member of moe. is very aware of that. This might not have been, and I felt just plain lucky being there for it.
moe. is wrapping up this leg of the tour and will be returning back homeward by the time you’re reading this. There’s more dates this summer and fall, including their annual Summer Camp Music Fest in Chillicothe, IL Memorial Day weekend. Find out all the details and all things moe. by visiting their website here: https://moe.org/