For a period in the 1990s, a house across from the University at Albany’s uptown campus on Western Avenue served as the home base for jam band moe., who return to the Capital Region this weekend to play back-to-back shows at the Palace Theatre Friday and Saturday (Feb. 23 and 24).
“It was cool because we didn’t have to worry about bothering neighbors when we had parties or practiced,” says moe. guitarist Al Schnier of the band’s pad, one of the few houses on an otherwise commercial strip.
The improvisational rock band formed at the University of Buffalo in 1989 but relocated to Albany in 1994 after considering a move to New York City, says Schnier over the phone from his current home in the Utica area, where he was born and has lived for the past 20 years.
“We had been touring a lot all over the Northeast, and it seemed like we were always driving east,” says Schnier of the decision to move closer to the touring action. “We wanted to move to Brooklyn.”
Moe. performs at the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester earlier this month. (Jay Blakesberg)
But moe.’s friends in the band Free Beer and Chicken, an Oswego jam outfit that shared a freewheeling sensibility, had just moved to Albany and found a house for half the cost of moving to Brooklyn. And the Capital Region was home to a fertile jam band scene — another draw.
“The Ominous Seapods were here, Moon Boot Lover, Free Beer and Chicken. ... It was this cool period,” says Schnier. “We all played shows together. There was a lot of support for each other’s bands. 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.”
The club Valentine’s was moe.’s “home base for many years,” Schnier says of the former New Scotland Avenue bar and music venue that closed in early 2014.
There — and in clubs across the Northeast — moe. honed its live act as one that celebrated taking chances, improvising live and having a sense of humor. They started playing larger venues and festivals, and eventually formed their own: moe.down, an annual festival over Labor Day weekend that the band has curated since 2000.
They eventually moved away from Albany, and have now been together for almost 30 years, but Schnier looks back fondly on their early days, when managing the band was more of a do-it-yourself effort.
“Everything had to be done by hand to maintain a connection with fans,” he says of the band’s work to make flyers, maintain mailing lists and send postcards. “It’s so different today, just being able to do it all digitally. But I think the older way of doing it forged a deeper connection with fans somehow.”
Moe. announced a hiatus in August of 2017, after bassist Rob Derhak was diagnosed with cancer. But his treatment was successful, and the band is now back “pretty much full bore,” says Schnier. “We’re all ready to go back to work.”
The off time gave Schnier and other members of the band a chance to flesh out new material, and they’ll debut four new songs at the Palace, Schnier says. Plans are also in the works for a new album and soon-to-be-announced spring and summer tour dates.
Although their upcoming tour will take them to venues all over the country, there’s something different about playing in Albany at the Palace, Schnier says. “I love that venue. From the band’s perspective, it’s a special space. It feels so warm to be there. It feels like a hometown show for us.”
WHEN: Friday (Feb. 23) and Saturday (Feb. 24)
WHERE: The Palace, 19 Clinton Ave., Albany
TICKETS: $35 advance, $40 day of show ($65 two-day pass), Ticketmaster.com, Palace box office
MORE INFO: palacealbany.org, 518-465-4663 (box office)
Guitarist Al Schnier of moe. on his favorite Capital Region concerts
“I went to college in Oneonta, so I came to Albany often before moving to Albany,” says moe. guitarist Al Schnier. Asked to name the most memorable live music shows that he attended in the Capital Region during that period, he thinks for a minute before naming the following performances:
- Frank Zappa at Albany’s Palace Theatre, Feb. 2, 1988. “To this day, it remains one of my all-time favorite concerts,” he says.
- Multiple shows by the Grateful Dead at the Knickerbocker Arena (now the Times Union Center) in the 1990s. The jam band progenitors, Schnier’s favorite band of all time, played at the Knick 13 times from 1990-1995 (including three triple-night stands and two double-night stands). “When I was that kid from Oneonta going to the Knick to see the Dead, I never imagined I’d end up playing with the Dead,” Schnier says, of moe’s gigs with the jam legends. “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.”
- Phish at the Glens Falls Civic Center, Oct. 31, 1994. “We were still living in Buffalo, and Rob [Derhak, moe. bassist] and I drove all the way from Buffalo just to go to the show,” Schnier says. Phish’s Halloween performances are legendary, with the Vermont jam band transforming into another group to play a classic album in its entirety. “We thought they were going to do [Frank Zappa’s] ‘Joe’s Garage.’ Instead they played the Beatles’ ‘White Album.’ I’m a big Beatles fan, so I was really excited they played that record.”
- A four-night Rock the Vote tour with moe., Yolk, Moon Boot Lover and Ominous Seapods that came to the Palace Theatre on Sept. 26, 1996. The show featured one set by each band; as each band finished, they would jam during their last song as, one by one, members of the next band came onstage and joined the jam, and one by one members of the preceding band left the stage.