I caught Moonalice, Roger McNamee's all-star band at Moe's Alley in Santa Cruz on Friday of the labor day weekend. Moe's Alley is one of the best small clubs in the area and the perfect venue for this kind of band. You can get right up close and into the music as the above photo shows. (From left to right: Ann McNamee, Roger McNamee, Jack Casady and G.E. Smith. Not shown: Pete Sears on keyboards, Barry Sless on Pedal Steel and Jimmy Sanchez on drums.)
The band came on promptly at 9:30 kicking things off with the Sonny Boy Williamson blues number "Eyesight to the blind (Talk about your woman)" with G.E. Smith on vocals delivering some scorching Telecaster licks. That was followed by a couple of original songs with Ann and Roger on vocals and then back to some more rockin' blues including "Train Left the Sation," Pete Sears' song "Fair to Even Odds," the traditional song "Barbary Ellen," Marshal Crenshaw's "Cynical Girl" and then a extended jam that started with an original tune "Road to Here" and ultimately led into a down and dirty slow-speed version of "Jumpin' Jack Flash." It was great to see Jack Casady really digging in on the jam. By this point, the audience was at the band's mercy and G.E. launched into Junior Wells' "Messin with the Kid" with some smoking guitar work by G.E. on his Telecaster and Barry Sless on a custom Scott Walker guitar and a nice keyboard solo by Pete Sears to round it out.
The highlight of the evening was G.E. Smith covering Bob Dylan's "Highway 61 Revisited." But this was no pale imitation; G.E. made the song his own from his forceful vocal delivery to his slide guitar solo. To me it proved G.E. was the star of the show. He's not only "master of the Telecaster" but an all round musical force who brings out the best of everyone in the band. G.E. was all smiles during the show, enjoying the opportunity to cut loose on his songs and filling in where needed on others'.
Barry Sless played with studied concentration in his solos, in a manner reminiscent of the Grateful Dead with intricate noodling and improvisation. And he never seemed to break a sweat even when the sound from his pedal steel dropped out at one point. Jack Casady was meticulous in his bass playing, keeping beat with his eyebrows. One can assume that after so many years of playing bass, it's his heart beat. Jimmy Sanchez kept perfect time on drums, playing with subtle variety and force when needed. Just a few numbers into the evening, Roger let loose into a whirling dervish of sweat, hair, glasses and bowling shirt. He was a little more controlled when he stepped up to sing vocals and his style was not unlike T-Bone Burnett or a baritone Dylan during his Nashville Skyline period.
My only beef with the show is that it sometimes felt like three different bands playing in three different styles. Roger and Ann's songs were mellow and romantic; G.E.'s were rockin' and Pete Sears' were musically great, but sometimes lyrically depressing. There's nothing wrong with having different styles, but the the flow between the styles wasn't always smooth.
Moonalice is touring the US this fall with gigs in Vegas, Portland, Seattle, Chicago, Columbus, New Jersey and elsewhere. If you like rockin' blues or jam music, this is well worth seeing. I've embedded a slide show of some of the photos I took from the Moe's Alley gig using Google's PicasaWeb.
If you're in the bay area, Moe's Alley in Santa Cruz has live music just about every night of the week with a range of blues, reggae, rock and local talent. A few of the upcoming gigs include James Hunter (Sept 7), The Subdudes (Oct 6) and Frank Marino and Mahogany Rush (Sept 26), the first rock concert I ever saw, back in Montreal some 30 years ago.