The titans of the jam band world, moe., formed in Buffalo, New York in 1989 as a part of a wave of improvisational rock bands in upstate New York. Vinnie Amico, moe.’s drummer, attributes this boom of bands to the culture surrounding the region and the heavy influence of the Grateful Dead. The Daily Cardinal spoke with Amico as they prepared for their winter tour.
“It’s always been kind of a big jam scene, but it was always Grateful Dead territory,” Amico said. “But everywhere is Grateful Dead territory.”
He went on to say that the friendly terrain of music venues throughout New York state helped a band such as theirs grow in their formative years.
“The beauty of upstate New York and live music in general is that there’s a college in every town up and down the Thruway,” Amico said. “You can go to Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Albany, Poughkeepsie and then New York [City] and that’s six towns within two hours of each other.” He then added, “And you’re not even talking the small SUNY [State University of New York] towns.”
On this tour, which as of press time is nearly complete, they have mixed in a number of smaller shows in major markets, including small club shows in New York and Chicago, in addition to the traditional larger clubs and theaters they typically play. Amico said they did those as a sort of “thank you” to their hardcore fans.
“Fans really like the intimate setting and the smaller thing, it kind of brings them back to the olden days, when we were up and coming, just getting hammered, playing all out, balls to the wall,” Amico said. “So we kind of packaged them together … and the diehards they get into the smaller shows.
“Sometimes special shit happens at the smaller shows, whether it be Rob [Derhak, the bassist] getting drunk and talking shit the whole night or us pulling something out or just the jamming because we’re in such a small, intimate setting that we can kind of just…rage.”
Since the band has been together for so long, they find new ways each night to keep things interesting, both for themselves and the audiences.
“It’s mostly the improvisation,” Amico said. “Between the stylistic differences of the set lists and the improvisation works within the set lists, and just because we do a lot of jamming throughout the night, that’s what keeps it interesting night to night. Just trying to figure out how to get from point A to point B musically and the conversations that are going on on-stage musically.
“Plus we do still write new tunes and we have a few songs from the album we just released [No Guts, No Glory] that are still pretty fresh, so we’re still trying to figure out how to jam some of those out so there’s always stuff that keeps it fresh.”
While a plethora of new tunes helps keeps things interesting, unlike most jam bands, moe. does not play as many covers as their peers in the jam world.
“We don’t play a ton of covers,” Amico said. “If you see pretty much every other jam band, they play a lot of covers. We don’t. We just don’t do it that often, so we have a pretty short list. And by short list, we’re still talking 25 or 30, but it’s not as many as a lot of the other bands.
“And it’s making sure everybody actually knows how it goes. So if there’s one or two covers thrown-in in a night, hopefully that’s something we’ll go over in sound check unless it’s one we’ve been doing forever. But we don’t learn covers all the time, that’s just not something we do.”
Although it has been a while since they last played Madison, Amico said they are always excited to play the capitol of Wisconsin.
“We’re definitely excited to get back there, we know its such a great town and the vibe there is awesome,” Amico said. “We have a lot of fans there in the Midwest, so I know I’m looking forward to that. I like the town of Madison, we’ve been there enough times that there’s a lot of cool things. It’s a college town, a cool town, and it’s named after my daughter, of course.”
moe. is set to play the Barrymore Theatre on Wednesday, March 18 at 8:00 p.m. Tickets are still available.