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Moe Better 

Moe evolves from lost-in-the-pack to Great White Hope.

Moe, taking jam-band music to the next level.
  • Moe, taking jam-band music to the next level.

Moe singer and guitarist Al Schnier isn't being facetious when he says that his group's latest album, Wormwood, is the Buffalo jam band's The Bends . . . and that it still has a Kid A in them. The Radiohead comparisons are kinda apt, in fact. More than any other combo that likes to noodle till the cows come home, Moe has evolved from lost-in-the-pack inconsequence to Great White Hope status. Wormwood -- a complex CD of songs, ideas, and musings about and from the road -- is just about the closest that jam-band culture has come to delivering an art-rock classic.

"We ended up with this really long, epic thing, where the songs sort of flowed together," Schnier explains. "It worked out really well in the end, but we were totally making it up as we went along."

Like all good road albums -- Jackson Browne's Running on Empty, R.E.M.'s New Adventures in Hi-Fi -- Wormwood began life during tour time. "The plan for the album kept changing on a daily basis," Schnier says. "But live tracks were the foundation." Songs were tested onstage. Those that made the cut were either committed to tape then and there, or tinkered with in the studio. "All of the material lent itself to being recorded live, but not necessarily in the studio," Schnier says. "And we weren't even sure we wanted to tackle it in the studio.

"We wanted to make a classic road album, like [the Allman Brothers'] Eat a Peach or [Neil Young's] Tonight's the Night. We wanted to record some of the stuff live, some in a hotel room, maybe some backstage or during a sound check."

Remarkably, Wormwood -- technically a live album -- is Moe's greatest embrace of the studio so far. It works both as a postcard from a stage band that's recently learned how to tame its muse and as a document of semi-spontaneous, wholly inspired session work. It's the band's fifth album (not counting concert discs) and its most concise. It even managed to fit a whopping 14 songs on the CD this time.

Still, the urge to wank endlessly onstage is there, Schnier says. "There will never be a time where we'll say, 'This is our late-'60s Beatles period, and we'll be in the studio for five years,'" he explains. "Our whole thing is built on touring. It would be difficult to pull the plug on that now and expect our fans to be okay with that."

Credit the fancy fretwork between Schnier and Chuck Garvey with making Moe cult heroes over the past decade. Wormwood, however, has carried them over to new ears -- including ones on the edge of the widespread jam-band universe. "I like the scene, and I don't mind the name," Schnier says. "We're an improvisational rock band. We jam. We're definitely a jam band. I don't have a problem with that.

"Sonic Youth does it. Hell, Cream was a jam band. Led Zeppelin was a jam band. There just wasn't a jam-band scene back then. But now there's a book and coffee mugs. I just can't wait till you can buy jam-band clothes at JC Penney. Then you'll know it's all over."

Speaking of Highlights

More by Michael Gallucci

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