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The moe.ron's Guide

To Jam Band Success

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Since forming in Buffalo, NY, in 1991, the band moe. (get used to the lowercase "m" and the period, or else this story's gonna throw ya) has evolved considerably. How evolved? Consider a band that's gone from playing 20-minute complete sets to playing 20-minute songs. The group's fanbase has grown exponentially, too.

Presently comprised of Al Schnier (guitar and vocals), Rob Derhak (bass, vocals), Chuck Garvey (guitar, vocals), Vinnie Amico (drums) and Jim Loughlin (percussion, acoustic guitar), moe. serves as a fine template on how many "second-wave" jam artists have made nice little careers out of giving the people what they want. In that spirit, consider the following a bullet-point primer on how to win friends and under-the-influence people:

• Work on making the drunks happy first.

Bide your time in musty, cinder-block piss palaces (moe. had its Broadway Joe's) that serve pitchers of brew for much the same price an uptown joint gets for a domestic. Start out being an in-the-flesh jukebox for people wanting nothing more than to hear them "some goddang Foreigner" while they suck down suds and shoot the shit. Throw in a Cure cover, work up to some Al Green. Without the bastards knowing it, start to fold a few originals into the mix. Work up a mixtape (CDR, what have you) for folks to take home with them. Have your buddy do the graphics -- maybe some Aubrey Beardsley or something else cool to look at while your listener's buddy is reloading the bong. Find a guy that works at a screenprinter (it ain't hard) and get some swell-looking T-shirts made. Give them away if you have to -- folks like nothing more than a free T-shirt. This is the first rule of music culture.

• Work on your jams, of which there are three main types.

You wouldn't be a jam band if you couldn't jam, right? Paul Weller excluded? As stated above, you have three real choices here. There's your chord progression-based jamming, which is basically variations on pre-written music, allowing for tempo changes and extended solos (see Widespread Panic). There's your jazz-based jamming, wherein a band completely throws away the rule book and goes shit-for-broke, completely allowing The Moment to dictate what comes next and how long it goes on for. Sometimes it sounds like so much shit; and sometimes it sounds like God came down off his perch, slid down a rainbow, hopped into your head and proceeded to implode himself into a million prism-like diamond shards (see the Grateful Dead). Lastly, you have the vast majority of jam bands, who segue into and out of set jams and free-improv moments as the spirit (or spirits) move them. moe. is among the better outfits at this sort of thing, and as such, is perfect for both the pilsner and pharmaceutical crowds.

• Play live shows and record them like the cheap moneymakers -- er, fan souvenirs -- they are.

Our boys moe. are old veterans at this, having released at least 11 (yes, 11) live albums -- 1996's Loaf, 2000's L, Volumes I (2001), II (2002) and III (2003) of Warts and All, five Instant Live records, and 2005's Warts and All, Volume IV -- in 15 years. The Rolling Stones had their Got Live If You Want It. moe.'s got live even if you don't. Beats tryin' to get all the boys in the studio at once, however.

• Buy a van or minibus with low miles.

Live out of it if you have to. Buy a vegetarian travel guide. And if you do anything at all, get ye some AAA. Nothing harshes like a dropped transmission.

• Never underestimate a drummer who can keep good time, whether onstage or off.

moe. has been through a bunch of 'em: original drummer Ray Schwartz, his replacement Jim Loughlin, his replacement Mike Strazza and his replacement Chris Mazur, plus Vinny Amico and Loughlin once again, among others.

• Start your own festival.

moe. has their annual moe.down in Turin, NY, every year. And the boys have recently started something called a snoe.down in Lake Placid, replete with skiing and snowboarding and other frigid distractions. Folks like Les Claypool, Blues Traveler and the Flaming Lips have played the event, and more sign on yearly. Of course, moe. makes sure to play behemoth clusterfucks like Bonnaroo too, but what stoner or rock fanatic has never dreamed of having their very own festival? With them closing the festivities, no less?

• Have a little mystery about you.

About the band's name: If you're not a fan, or if you're my computer's spellcheck, you're surely wondering about the period. According to the band's Web site, the group's original moniker was "Five Guys Named Moe," after the old Louis Jordan song. It was then shortened to "Moe," then to little ol' lowercase "moe," before the band finally settled on the current moniker. However, I still have a sneaky feeling that the band was influenced by the cartoon bully in Calvin and Hobbes.

• Affix your logo to anything that moves.

Like, economically speaking. A visit to moe.'s Web site shows all sorts of goodies for sale, including: albums; about 10 varieties of T-shirts, hats, stickers and patches; lifestyle items like frisbees and Nalgene bottles; posters; knit caps and more. Becoming a band name is the first step to becoming a brand name, ya heard?

• Listen to your audience.

No one's suggesting you pay any mind to that numbnuts in the front row asking for "Birds of a Feather" or "Wharf Rat," but allow your audience to dictate the night's entertainment. This is the most galvanizing quality any jam band (indeed, any live performer) can have, and trumps any number of mediocre studio releases. Says moe. guitarist/vocalist Chuck Garvey: "Our shows are organic events. And there is a very real social aspect to performing that influences what and how we play on any given night." Spoken like a man who's heard the Dead's Terrapin Station, sez here.

• Encourage that audience to come up with a witty catch-all to describe themselves. The Dead had their Deadheads. Phish has their Phans. Widespread Panic has their Spreadheads. Fans of moe. answer to moe.rons, so long as you make sure to pronounce this the way Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel does on The Simpsons.

moe. plays Ovens Auditorium Thursday, March 2, at 7pm; $24. For more information, call 704-522-6500 or go to www.moe.org, www.ticketmaster.com

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