By Michael Lello

Photos by Jesse Faatz

STROUDSBURG, Pa. – Jam band fans can make themselves an easy target.  They go on about “sick” and “epic” jams, and how some band just played the first version of some song since 2006.  Some of them, bless them, lack objectivity, and think any long song or show is a good show.

On Sunday night at the Sherman Theater, upstate New York jam rock veterans moe. proved that those fans are sometimes right.  From the snaky and sinister strains of opener “Crab Eyes” to the crunchy country of final encore “She Sends Me,” the band delivered a purposeful and energetic set of well-crafted songs and lengthy – and yes, often epic – improvisations that rarely lost their melodic drive.

This, for the most part, is thanks to the dynamic lead guitar tandem of Al Schnier and Chuck Garvey, but bassist Rob Derhak and drummer Vinnie Amico deserve credit for holding everything together, and Jim Loughlin, who plays everything from vibraphone to acoustic guitar, is an important ingredient in the mix as well, adding flourishes and accents that help differentiate the band from the standard rock lineup.

IMG_2545The first extended musical moment came after second song “Blue Jeans Pizza,” when Garvey played a ripping solo complete with hammer-ons while Schnier added piano lines on an electronic keyboard.  Bathed in blue lights, the band fell into a light, ambient jam, then a heavier rock feel, eventually segueing into the upbeat “Sticks And Stones.”

The bluegrassy “Time Again” was fun, as was the out-there funk rock of “Down Boy.”  The high point of the first set, however, was a raging “Head,” growing from a Schnier-led segue out of “Down Boy.”  The two guitarists played off each other expertly; this wasn’t the simple back-and-forth leads that pepper a moe. set, but patterns in which Schnier would pluck out a lead line while Garvey unleashed expansive squalls and slides up and down the guitar neck.

Before a lengthy set break, moe. wrapped up the first half of the show with the instrumental “McBain,” featuring more guitar heroics and a tease of Talking Heads’ “Crosseyed and Painless.”

The five-piece opened Sunday’s second set with the reggae punk of “Threw It All Away,” before a slow, poignant “The Faker,” sung by Derhak, who led the outro jam with his insistent and repetitive bass lines.   The jam navigated through darker waters and into a hard rocking “It” and “Bring You Down,” both sung by Garvey.  Both were strong selections; in the latter’s improvisational segment, Schnier sustained a note while Garvey shredded heavy metal style, before the band shifted into “Haze,” with Schnier playing a double-neck white guitar.

The goofy “Dr. Graffenberg” was fun, with Schnier soloing over crisp Garvey accents, before the band slipped into “Lazarus,” which is one of the better songs in moe.’s extensive catalog.  After the band completed “Lazarus,” it barreled into a heavy and intense reprise of “Head,” a suiting end to the second set.

The encore songs were “Queen Of Everything” and the aforementioned Schnier-sung “She Sends Me.”  It was a fun, singalong moment – thankfully for Schnier, whose voice was starting to crack – and a neat end to a show that, including the intermission, lasted nearly four hours.

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