This is why, at their best, we call them jam bands: Nearing the 90-minute mark in their second set on October 8th at New York's Beacon Theater, the upstate quintet moe. hovered with accelerated grace in a piece aptly called "Haze" — guitarists Chuck Garvey and Al Schnier dancing in treble, in twisting-snake patterns, with gun bursts of wah-wah; bassist Rob Derhak bouncing in the middle, riffing and holding time as drummer Vinnie Amico kept a steady sizzling rhythm, darted by Jim Loughlin's percussion.
Then, with a symmetry so sly you couldn't tell what they were up to for a few minutes, the entire band slowly descended as one, like a precision-fighter squadron, out of the clouds into "Plane Crash," from moe.'s 1998 album, Tin Cans and Car Tires. As a segue, it was brilliant: down into a song about flying (literally) on weed that moved more like a train, with a tumbling beat and clattering guitar hook. As jamming, it was gold standard: five players naturally locked and surging, improvising with purpose.
And that was just the climax. Mixing new material with fan favorites such as "New York City" (Dither, 2000) and "Spine of a Dog" (1992's Fatboy), moe. — the lower case and punctuation are officially part of the name — spent most of the night in elevated instrumental excitement. The vocals accounted for 15 percent of the show at best, which left plenty of room for Garvey and Schnier to exchange solos, then tangle in spirals over the concentrated business of the rhythm section. The first fifteen minutes of the opening set, taken up by "Lazarus," were a dazzling spinout; after that, everything was airborne.
The five guys in moe. were all wearing suits, by the way. As this is their 20th anniversary tour, they apparently felt the need to dress up a little. Actually, moe. looked more like public defenders specializing in small-time pot busts, but they played like they tasted the evidence firsthand. "Too fuckin' high," Derhak, Garvey and Schneir sang in the chorus of "Plane Crash." That night, there was no such thing.