Vic Theatre - Chicago
November 13, 1998
First Appeared in The Music Box, January 1999, Volume 6, #1
Written by John Metzger
On November 13, moe. drifted into Chicago's Vic Theatre on the final leg of their fall tour. From the audience in attendance, it appears as if the jam-band scene will either explode like a supernova or crash in on itself like a black hole. In either case, the scene as we know it is on the verge of a major change.
A great majority of the audience arrived fashionably late — nearly halfway through the first set. They proceeded to pay attention to exactly the first 3 ½ minutes of each song, taking little interest in the band's musical excursions, and chattering relentlessly until the next break in the music.
It was truly a sad affair for those who attend performances by improvisational groups like moe. Improvisational rock concerts were often a haven for those seeking spiritual enlightenment through music. Sure, these concerts were also social gatherings, but the music played a very important role. Now it seems that improvisational rock concerts have become the popular thing to do, whether you get it or not (or even want to).
At this particular event, the crowd was often louder than the band and had a truly negative impact on their performance. Worse still, was the congregation's reaction to the band's throwaway encore of I Know You Rider. As moe. launched into this traditional song, the audience snapped to full attention, literally screaming out the lyrics. It was extremely frightening and further proved that the audience was more interested in which songs were performed rather than how they were performed.
Throughout their two 75-minute sets, moe. put up a valiant and brave fight, even if it was to no avail. During their first set, they explored lengthy musical excursions, and during their second set, they tried a more, focused, song-oriented approach, yet nothing really seemed to work.
Those who did pay attention — and there was a core group of fans who were there for the music — were treated to a wonderful rendition of 32 Things. The band allowed the song to mutate and develop into a driving train-like force. Swirling guitar mixed with driving bass and percussion as the song pushed faster and faster until it nearly spun out of control. The mood was further amplified by the best aspects of the light show, which unfortunately settled into oblivion for the rest of the evening.
On Head, the band blended the Screaming Trees psychedelic-grunge with the open-ended jams of Frank Zappa. The song moved into a mesmerizing twin-guitar attack that simmered over the percolating interplay of bass and drums. Hi & Lo floated on tight Beatle-esque harmonies, creating a drugged-out, dream-like trance. Threw It All Away explored a Police-like blend of punk and reggae, and Tambourine cruised through a mix of Southern country-rock and blues.
But it didn't matter. The audience continued to talk right up until the end. You could see the look of frustration on the band as the crowd's unbridled enthusiasm finally erupted during I Know You Rider. If only the audience had paid more attention to the rest of the set. Perhaps a few more people would have finally "gotten it" — or maybe that's just wishful thinking.
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Copyright © 1999 The Music Box