Reviews > Shows
New Year’s Eve with Moonalice
Photo by Alan Sheckter
Point Arena, Calif.
According to Moonalice legend, the jam-happy San Francisco-based band’s website asserts, “The Point Arena (Calif.) lighthouse is closer to Honolulu than any other point on the U.S mainland. We can’t see it from here, but I smell something yummy that must be from Hawaii.” Perhaps that’s why the band that features renowned S.F.-scene vets Pete Sears, Barry Sless, and John Molo along with former Flying Other Brothers principals Roger and Ann McNamee has chosen the tiny Arena Theater in the equally tiny Northern California coastal town of Point Arena, for its the past two New Year’s Eve performances.
Originally a 1930s vaudeville playhouse, the fully restored 250-capacity theater provided a lovely setting at which to toast to the new year and to soak up two meaty sets of the Moonalice vibe. The show followed a cocktail and appetizer hour, upstairs social card games, and international buffet items served at long tables in front of the stage. Those tables were subsequently folded up and whisked away to allow for joyous dancing. The mature, genteel audience did its share of partying, but the in-control vibe of the house was proven when cups of champagne were set on a table and guests politely claimed theirs with nary a drop spilled.
Following dinner, band manager Steve Parish, he of Grateful Dead roadie stardom, told a few old stories, introduced the band, and we were under way shortly before 10 p.m. The Byrds’ psychedelic-cowboy hit, “Mr. Spaceman,” started things off; the first set also included “Blink of an Eye,” “Constellation Rag,” and a manic, set-closing version of Canned Heat’s “On the Road Again,” with former Flying Other Brothers’ Tony Bove guesting on harmonica.
Moonalice’s bottom-end was expertly established by Molo and Sears – when the latter wasn’t tending to keyboards or guitar. Sless deftly wailed and noodled on lead guitar and added particularly pleasing twanging and picking on the pedal steel. Roger McNamee earnestly contributed rhythm guitar and lots of vocals, and Ann McNamee added her typically lovely presence on vocals (her lead on Procul Harem’s anthemic “A Whiter Shade of Pale” was an ethereal delight).
Parish led the countdown to New Year’s and the second set began with a quick “Auld Lang Syne,” followed by Bob Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone,” and Moonalice’s own big, juicy “Tell Me It’s OK,” a massive jam-tastic selection that was reminiscent of an epic Garcia-Saunders piece of music from the mid-’70s. The 11-song second set closed with “Kick it Open” into Steve Earle’s “I Ain’t Ever Satisfied.” The band sent the audience back out to greet the new year and the cool, coastal air with encores of “Down the Road A Piece,” and their national cult hit, now downloaded more than a half-million times, “It’s 4:20 Somewhere.”
Despite sometimes plays second fiddle in live music circles to the slightly more celebrated David Nelson Band that also includes Sears, Sless, and Molo, Moonalice is an impressive ensemble. Sears and Sless were the musical heroes of this show. Not only did Sears offer delightful keyboard passages he’s been closely associated with during his tenure with Hot Tuna and others, but he played guitar and sang on “Fair to Even Odds,” which he co-wrote with Robert Hunter, and plucked bass rhythms and bass leads with ease. Sless is an off-the-hook player right now with the power to almost single-handedly elevate a song, a set, or a show. If Steve Kimock was the guitar darling of the post-Grateful Dead club scene in the 2000s, Sless is that guy in the 2010s.
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