Indie sensations jam on Summer Session tour.
By Ashley Fantz
AUGUST 2, 1999: While Lilith was in the ladies' room, a few guys moved onto the summer concert turf. The four-band show billed as Summer Session '99 is delivering its solution to what's become an overdose of buy-one-get-too-many commercialized music festivals.
Funkified gritty New Orleans group Galactic, quasi-hippie jam band Gov't Mule (fronted by Allman Brother Warren Haynes), pop bluegrass band the String Cheese Incident, and indie sensation moe. will share the stage at Mud Island Amphitheatre. Although the bands' styles are distinctly different, all embrace the fundamentals of guitar rock.
"I wanted to be in Lilith Fair, but no one asked me," jokes moe. guitarist Al Schnier. "We don't have any women on the tour. It just happens that 80 percent of our first-time audiences are usually guys. I'm not quite sure why that is."
Besides Connecticut's Deep Banana Blackout, there aren't many women playing improvisational, grassroots-oriented music like that featured at Summer Session.
"The concert is also a little bit different in that you're not overwhelmed by eight hours of music," Schnier says. "Even I can't take that kind of marathon."
moe.'s sound is an amalgamation of '80s pop, hard rock, and '90s touchy-feely Dave Matthews-meets-Hootie softness. Throw in an element of Cake's wry humor and the Grateful Dead's hippie swagger and you have the eclectic tunes of moe.
It's not unusual for the Buffalo, New York, band to slide into an impromptu 40-minute jam session, a la Phish. It's that improvisation that keeps their diehard fans, affectionately dubbed moe.runs, faithful. Despite sharing the bill with three other bands on the one-month, 20-city Summer Session tour, moe. will still have a little over an hour of stage time to play both old favorites and introduce new, more radio-friendly songs.
Formed in 1991, moe. -- Schnier, guitarists Rob Derhak and Chuck Garvey, and drummer Vinnie Amico -- was once considered only a jam band. Their latest effort, Tin Cans & Car Tires, illustrates how much the members have matured since their days of self-produced albums. Tin Cans & Car Tires is the band's second album with Sony and a return to their original style. Recorded in the intimacy of the producer's home, the album's quirky, conversational lyrics and jagged meters have garnered moe. some national attention. Members went from eating peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches for dinner to the national spotlight when Rolling Stone named moe. one of the top 10 underground bands.
"We've matured in a sense that it's no longer an out-of-control jazz odyssey when we jam," Schnier says. "Jam bands are the worst offenders of wanking off on stage. It's okay for the band doing it and the handful of people on acid who don't know the difference, but I think many people would rather listen to a structured song with elements of controlled improv."
The guitarist says moe. don't usually decide what they'll play until they walk on stage. But fans should look forward to the new tune "The Ghost Of Ralph's Mom," which tells the story of a specter that haunted a home where the band used to live. Characteristically, moe. is borrowing the mournful aspects of R.E.M's sound, Freedy Johnston's romantic guitar chords, and Tom Petty's ironic lyrics in new tunes, "Guitar" and "Can't Seem To Find." Only "Captain America," with its Big Star '70s groove, stands out as a potential dance hit. A club remix from Junior Vasquez might help moe. accomplish what no jam band has done before -- achieve mainstream success while avoiding the "sellout" stamp.
"You go through that -- questioning your creativity," Schnier says. "We want to be that jam band that crosses over and becomes both that and a studio/recording band. It's an inner turmoil when you write a potential radio song and wonder how your current fans will perceive it."
Because moe. is "underground" doesn't mean the band is unknown. They typically draw crowds of 2,500 people to their shows and have recorded a studio session sponsored by Microsoft and the Virtual Music Site (www.tvmv.com), the software giant's new online music outlet which is attempting to oust MP3.
There's talk that a few Summer Session performances will be broadcast over the Internet, a device moe. frequently employs. No decision has been made as to whether Memphis is one of the chosen Web cities.
"We played at the Beale Street Music Festival," Schnier says. "Playing in a place like that, it does something for our energy."
Unlike other festivals, Summer Session will have continuous music on the main stage so revelers won't be bored. Acoustic acts such as Gibb Droll, Kevn Kinney, and Keller Williams will entertain between sets.
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