The Upstate Beat: Dead & Company or moe.? Jam fans have choice to make

Moe. performs a free show at the Empire State Plaza on Wednesday, July 6. (photo provided)

Moe. performs a free show at the Empire State Plaza on Wednesday, July 6. (photo provided)

Moe. vs. the Dead.

It’s an unfortunate scheduling conflict for jam fans.

The improvisational rock band moe., with its long ties to the Capital Region, returns to Albany to play at Empire State Plaza on July 6, the same evening that Dead & Company bring their summer tour to Saratoga Performing Arts Center.

Dead and Co. features Bob Weir, Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann, former members of the Grateful Dead, a band that moe. guitarist and vocalist Al Schnier often cites as a musical influence. In a 2018 interview with the Daily Gazette, Schnier listed multiple shows by the Grateful Dead in Albany as his favorite concerts of all time.

“When I was a kid from Oneonta going to the Knick to see the Dead, I never imagined I’d end up playing with the Dead,” Schnier told me then.

“Getting to play with our heroes was a big deal. For 20 years now, we’ve known those guys. That’s a huge honor for me.”

Moe. also sometimes covers the Grateful Dead, trotting out tunes like “West L.A. Fadeaway” and “Sugaree.” Maybe they will again this time.

Regardless, jam fans can avoid traffic on the Northway and pricy Dead tickets — the cheapest are $56.50 plus fees for lawn seats — by seeing moe. at the Plaza for free.

Moe. members Schnier, Chuck Garvey (guitars, vocals), and Rob Derhak (bass, vocals) first came together at the University of Buffalo in 1990. The exploratory jam outfit relocated to Albany in 1994 after considering a move to New York City. It was cheaper to live here, a centrally located spot for the band to tour around the Northeast.

During the 1990s, moe. lived and practiced in a house across from the University at Albany’s uptown campus on Western Avenue. The band gained percussionist Jim Loughlin and drummer Vinnie Amico during the ’90s.

The Capital Region was home to a fertile jam band scene at the time, and moe. had friends here, including freewheeling bands like Free Beer and Chicken, the Ominous Seapods and Moon Boot Lover. Over time, moe. honed its live act into one that celebrates risk-taking, live improvisation and quirky humor.

“It was this cool period. We all played shows together. There was a lot of support for each other’s bands,” Schnier told me before the band played a two-night stand at the Palace Theatre in Albany in 2018. The band eventually moved away, but for a time the Capital Region was their home base. “It was a great time to be in a band and a great time to be in Albany. It felt like this renaissance time for young jam bands.”

In December of 2020, when venues around the country were struggling due to COVID-19 shut-downs, moe. performed a livestream event in the lobby of the Palace, with proceeds donated to the Albany theater, which the band has said is one of its favorite venues to play nationwide.

After surviving several recent health scares, the members of moe. return to their adopted hometown of Albany for the Capital Concert Series on Wednesday (5:30 to 8:30 p.m.). If you miss moe. this time, they also headline the Adirondack Independence Music Festival in Lake George on Sept. 2-4.

And next up in the Capital Concert Series is Pat Benatar at the Plaza on July 13.

The Figgs Boost Spirits at the Hangar

“We all needed that,” said bass player Pete Donnelly of the Figgs on a night when many members of the audience were shell-shocked by a rights-depriving Supreme Court ruling delivered that day. The Figgs came out rocking at the Hangar on the Hudson last Friday with a vengeance that captured the on-edge mood, pocketed it and rearranged it into an empowering spirit.

The power of rock and roll was alive and kicking on new tunes from their recently released “Chemical Shake” album — the band’s 15th or 16th since they formed over 35 years ago in Saratoga Springs. “Hot Vice,” “Cataracts” and “I Lied to the Doctor” were especially punchy new songs kicking off a set that also included a blistering “Hit the Dirt” and an encore cover of the Ramones’ “Rockaway Beach.”

Don’t miss the Figgs when they co-headline the free Nipperfest on July 23 in Schenectady’s Music Haven in Central Park.

The Week Ahead

Concerts seem to slow down during the July 4 weekend, when people are more likely to be camping, boating, picnicking and parading. Still, here are a few highlights for the next week:

— The Low Spirits, from Rochester, play vintage garage rock replete with snotty vocals, fuzzy guitars and farfisa organ. It all sounds very promising, so catch them on Friday, July 1, at No Fun (275 River St, Troy) with groovy DJ Sandra Lee and Schenectady’s great psychedelic rock band the Abyssmals. 8 p.m.

— We’ve yet to check out Unihog (2 Center St, Hoosick Falls) but have heard great things about the Hoosick Falls venue, so Saturday, July 2, would be a Shaka-good time to attend “Unihog’s Second Annual Luau” with the Swingin’ Palms. Expect tiki torches, grass skirts, tropical drink specials, Caribbean food and vintage Hawaiian, exotica, go-go and surf music from local guitarist Graham Tichy, bassist Ian Carlton, drummer Pete Vumbaco and guitarist Donald Young. 7 p.m.

— On Sunday, July 3, Tedeschi Trucks Band, the large-scale 12-member blues band fronted by married couple Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks, return to SPAC (108 Avenue of the Pines, Saratoga Springs) with their Wheels of Soul tour for this previously rescheduled show with the legendary Los Lobos and Gabe Dixon. 7 p.m.

— And Tuesday, July 5, one of the Capital Region’s best underground rock bands — the Albany all-women rawk group BattleaXXX — play at Rare Form Brewing Company (90 Congress St, Troy) with feral grunge punk duo BANGZZ from North Carolina. 6 p.m.
Reach Kirsten Ferguson at [email protected].

Categories: Entertainment, Life and Arts

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