WEB EXCLUSIVE: Cleveland was ready for some moe. at House of Blues

Greg Schwartz

“Cleveland’s never looked so pretty,” remarked moe. bassist Rob Derhak toward the end of the band’s stellar second set at the House of Blues Wednesday night.

The jam band stalwarts hadn’t played Cleveland in over a year, and Derhak’s comment suggests it may have been due to the city’s lack of a quality mid-size venue (moe. skipped Northeast Ohio on their fall tour.)

But the House of Blues appears to have remedied the problem, as the venue has been drawing a variety of music to downtown Cleveland.

Moe., fresh off a tsunami relief benefit concert last week in New York City — where they welcomed ex-Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio to the stage — was in fine form as they threw down nearly three hours’ worth of their trademark guitar-driven songs for a near-capacity crowd.

The band is known for melodically accessible pop song structures and extended psychedelic jams, and their skill in balancing the two is what has won them a devoted core following.

Moe. may not be filling arenas, but they do have fans following them around on tour. Like jamband forebears such as the Grateful Dead and Phish, moe.’s setlists vary on a nightly basis and their songs can go to unique heights at any given show.

The contrasts of the band’s musical interests were clearly displayed at the end of the first set when a cover of The Band’s ’60s pop classic “The Weight” was followed by moe.’s own perennial fan favorite and interstellar jam vehicle, “Plane Crash.”

The song — an ode to both the joys and dangers of getting “too fucking high” — is a modern day jamband classic. It’s got a melodic hook that draws the listener in and then takes him/her for a ride as the band soars in to full-flight jamming.

The lights swirled as Derhak and guitarists Al Schnier and Chuck Garvey all took turns leading a set-closing jam that could stand with the best of the genre. But that is what moe. is known for.

The band has been widely recognized by their peers in recent years — they won the Jammy award from Jambands.com for best live show of 2002 for their epic late-night performance at the inaugural Bonnaroo Festival in Tennessee, and then came back and won best studio album for Wormwood, their latest release.

While some bands would be content to mine a familiar formula, moe. is always looking to expand its sound and repertoire. Schnier sometimes will drift from his guitar to keyboard setup; the band has added second percussionist Jim Loughlin to join drummer Vinny Amico; and Derhak, Garvey and Schnier all sport extensive pedal board setups that allow them to dip into a diverse bag of sonic tricks. The three also share the lead vocal duties, adding a team-like feel to the proceedings.

The second set picked up where the first left off with “Bring It Back Home,” “Spine of A Dog,” “Yodelittle,” and “Buster” all segueing into each other. The band seemed to tease “Rebubala” — their classic Allman Brothers-inspired two-guitar melody line jam — in the segue that led into “Buster,” another fan favorite.

But to the joy of all, “Rebubala” was resurrected to end the second set and brought the house down, much in the way it did at the end of the classic Bonnaroo 2002 show. As the band left the stage, the crowd chanted “we want moe.!,” a unique double entendre for more moe. One suspects that the band will return to Cleveland sooner than before.

Contact forum columnist Greg Schwartz at [email protected].