Not In Buffalo Any More: moe. Embrace Their Inner Jamband (Relix Revisited)
It was during this era that the band also experienced some frustration with the limitations imposed by the jamband tag. Schnier looks back: “We did have other aspirations or at least believed we could branch out and step outside of this scene. After you beat your head against the wall enough times though, you’re like, okay my head hurts. Especially with Sony, we were not catering to the mainstream but we really believed that we could be a part of it. In the end we came to the conclusion that the mainstream is not ready for jambands. I think lot of it has to do with the coolness factor, the perception of it. The fact of the matter is we probably have a bigger scene than the electronica scene, it’s just not as fashionable. We’re not wearing clothes that are as nice or as cool and maybe that’s what it is, maybe we better start dressing better.”
One can understand how, on some level, this concern may have been a distraction to the band, and by the end of this period, some felt moe. sounded a bit stale and wondered if it had plateaued. The group recognized this criticism and worked to reinvigorate its live shows. One response was the return of Jim Loughlin who added zest on a range of percussion instruments (plus flute and acoustic guitar), a move which also led the band to reassess its songs (Amico’s addition in 1996 had the same effect, as his background with Dead material improved the flow of the improv. After Loughlin reentered the mix, Vinnie began to play “a little less and less is usually better. The two of us together have a solid, heavy-duty groove that’s deeper than one of us playing a little more.”). Along with this came a renewed focus on segues, as Schnier explains: “Nothing irks me more than when you can tell that a band just stopped playing one song and then started playing another without really pulling it off. We’re trying to create a seamless web between songs, and sometimes it can take a long time to get from point A to point B but it’s a worthy excursion. Some of the most exciting moments of the night come out of that because it’s unscripted. It forces us into new territory.”
This terrain extends to Wormwood. Again, as with the nightly covers idea (and frankly much within the moe. ambit) the band’s intentions shifted along the way. As an underlying principle the group acknowledged that its latest batch of songs had been written for the live setting as part of an effort to keep its shows vibrant to the extent that the group could not necessarily winnow down these compositions for a studio disc (as the band had done on its first post-Sony effort, Dither ). moe. initially thought it would create a road album of new material, akin to such celebrated efforts as the Dead’s Europe 72, and Jackson Browne’s Running on Empty. Then Derhak suggested that instead, the band should record its live performances and then use those basic tracks as building blocks (an approach employed to a lesser degree on the Dead’s Anthem of the Sun or Frank Zappa’s Shut Up ‘n’ Play Yer Guitar ). The band would also incorporate some of the music that it improvised in concert to carry it from one song to another. So the bass player “made up a flow chart with three basic songs in the middle and fifteen to twenty songs circling around it on this giant piece on paper with several ways to segue into another. From there I worked up set lists where we could take chunks from each set and put them together with chunks from other sets. It sounds insane.”
The band implemented the chart over two weeks of shows during the summer of 2002. The drum tracks served as fundament, a situation that Amico found to be “very similar to being in the studio in that I have to nail my tracks anyway; there was just a little more pressure to nail it live.” Beyond that, the band needed to exert some control to develop an inventive segue and yet recognize when it was time to drop out a beat and move on to the song. The band met the challenge of balancing creative freedom and restraint before a responsive live audience (a wildcard factor in its own right) as all but one segue on Wormwood comes from the live tracking.
At the end of the tour, moe. entered the studio only to discover that this was a classic case of not knowing how much it didn’t know. The band spent the first days simply storing files on the computer, an unanticipated, time-consuming predicate to the project. Then the individual musicians came in to lay down ideas, with another member always present for “moral support or abuse or just to have a different set of ears to say that might sound like it works but in the grand scheme of things, is it going to jibe with everything that has to come after it? It was a building process.” This course was complicated further by Derhak’s charge that “every song and every segue feel like its own track, unlike a live album where you may hit a song that was obviously coming out of another song. I wanted the whole album to be continuous and have a feel that is tied together but at the same time not have any one song or section sound like it’s lacking something.
Wormwood mostly satisfies Derhak’s standard. Some of the tracks do feel a bit like interstitial material, with others, like “Wormwood” or “Bend Sinister” developed a bit further. Still, the disc as a whole has an absorbing, ebullient vibe to it and perhaps above all else it does indeed flow, which is rather impressive given the fact the individual songs draw from the wide swath of genres that continue to exhilarate the band. Indeed, it occupies a liminal state, again fulfilling the bass player’s original intent: “I didn’t want to make a live album, all I wanted was somehow to steal the soul of a live show and put it on a studio album.”
The group was able to reach this achievement as a result of all that has come before, not only on the stage but also in the audience and within the domains of label execs, radio programmers and media critics. It enables Schnier to state with aplomb, “I think what we’ve done is come up with something that captures the essence of moe. and what we do live but places a new light on it, puts a studio spin on the whole thing and really bridges a gap. I think we’ve come up with a cure for the jamband studio album plague. There may be side effects though; you need to speak with your physician about this.”
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