Photos by Kelsey Winterkorn

The Fillmore in San Francisco is a simple and historic auditorium that is as unassuming on the outside as it isn’t on the inside. Tonight was dubbed an evening with moe. and as the lights dimmed, out came this quirky sextet, looking classy as can be in their matching black suits. Cheers erupted as they took their normal positions on stage. Dropping in on “Crab Eyes,” percussionist Jim Loughlin made his presence felt immediately as his sustained and bouncing vibraphone solo kept the song light and fresh. Segueing from “Crab Eyes,” they played an elongated “Threw It all Away” in which bassist Rob Derhak, the rock upon which this band has always grounded itself, slapped his bass in between the fast and reverberated guitar work of Al Schnier. Within the multi-tempo jam, out came Loughlin again on the Vibraphone, this time slowly bringing the band back into “Crab Eyes,” an amazing sandwich opener. The second part of “Crab” featured Chuck Garvey plucking out a solo on his guitar as he held it up to his body with the neck pointing ceiling high. It sounded good, it looked tight, especially when during a down note, all of the lights went off for just a second, leaving us in the dark for a beat. The negative space of music personified in darkness!

At this point in the evening the show continued building with “Akimbo,” in which Garvey and Schnier went back to a familiar format where they traded solos back and forth over the top of the heavy bass-lines that Derhak was holding down. Each with their own distinct style of jamming, Garvey more deliberate and solid in his delivery, Schnier looser and more of a noodler, they contrasted and built off each other quite effectively.

After segueing into “Captain America” and extending it out, while the crowd was transfixed by the band and the light show, out from the shadows came guitarist Mark Karan (RatDog). As if one cue, they carried this nearly continuous jam into the multifaceted Allman Brothers song, “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed.” It was the perfect vehicle for Karan to showcase his skills on guitar, and he took ample time to do so. The song, which usually runs around eight minutes was jammed out to about 15, with Karan leading the jamming through the first part. As the song changed tempo and moved to the second part, distinctly different rhythm and sound, Garvey and Schnier took turns. Then finishing off the set was a high powered version of “Moth” where Karan played quick and light on the guitar as he kept he eyes trained on Schnier for the proper timing and notes.

After a twenty-five minute set break, moe. jumped into a guitar-driven “Okayalright” for what would be an energetic and animated second set. This song is their version of “Summer of 69‘” and was a well placed opening vehicle for percussionist Loughlin, who filled the space between guitar and and chorus with a great cow bell effect. From here it was on into “St. Augustine,” and as the crowd went wild so did the rhythm section, Vinnie Amico on drums and Loughlin on percussion while Derhak’s vocals drew in plenty of crowd participation. Another high point of the second set was “Yodelittle,” the catalyst to the loosest section of the entire evening. Here each band member took time to showcase his skills and take the jam in one direction or another. At times when Loughlin would pick up the drum sticks and play on his congas he would add a Tito Puente-like sound to the rhythm section but in doing so would outplay his counterpart Amico. At other times, Amico was the only drummer needed and Loughlin would be hitting his drums without making any noticeable sound. Here Derhak also had his moments to shine, when the rest of the band dropped out on occasion except for his intense bass slaps. “Plane Crash” formed itself out of the jumbled sound that “Spaz Medicine” had become and it was amazing how they pulled it out, like the Phoenix rising from the ashes. With its fast tempo and catchy chorus it was a crowd favorite and a fine way to end the second set.

The encore was the reggae-inflected “Seat of My Pants.” It’s a fun song to end on the way the band profiles their quick lyrical stylings and vocal harmonies, with Garvey leading with a strong guitar, that slows to almost a dubbed-out portion of the song. It’s one of those all inclusive songs where every member gets a chance to really rock out.

Being the first show of the West Coast Leg of their 20th Anniversary tour it was extremely impressive. moe. has made themselves mainstays in the jamband scene because of their connection to their fans. Performing past 12:30 am, this evening, they started this tour on fire, finishing to cheers and applause from a crowd still wanting more after nearly 4 hours of music.