If you thought you heard a cheer last night far off in the distance–and you were anywhere but the moe. show at The Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, New York–then you might have wondered what was going on. But for everyone packed into the venerated music hall or streaming the show online, the reason for the cheer was abundantly and clear: moe.’s bass player and beloved frontman, Rob Derhak, was back onstage for the first time since fighting off cancer. As he plugged in, he acknowledged the cheer with a simple “Thanks” and a typically wry “I guess you’re not gonna get rid of me that easy.”

Listen to full audio of the performance as you read via taper T.J. Samulis, uploaded to archive.org by tenaciousj:

After crediting the love of a loyal nation of moe.rons for helping give him the strength to get back to doing what he does, the band fired up the machine and did what they do, opening with arguably the most beloved song in their repertoire, “Rebubula”. Tears streamed down faces, arms shot upwards in elation, and when the first notes rang clearly and the lights blazed to full power, the house erupted with months of pent-up emotion. When the first chorus passed smoothly with no signs of diminished ability, all worries were dissipated the audience promptly got to the job of getting lost in Derhak’s joyful return.

Closing “Rebub”, moe. wasted no time passing off the baton to guitarist Chuck “Satan” Garvey, who brought classic “Akimbo” back to the stage with a vigor and crisp-ness that exemplified the show’s overall feel. Not only were the performances from everyone onstage technically on-point, but they all had an air of unrestrained energy. Garvey’s licks and leads on “Akimbo”, for example, were not just enthusiastic, but as sharp as any in recent years. “32 Things” kept the party rolling and once again heavily featured Derhak on bass, slapping to the delight of his bandmates and audience alike. The round-robin singing style which moe. often employs was in full effect for the tune, giving Derhak a little more time before he brought out his recently-healed vocal abilities.

“Things” gave percussionist Jim Loughlin his first real opportunity to stretch out on the marimba and Mallet Kat, and his work on tour with mallet master Mike Dillon recently cleared paid dividends. Beat master Vinnie Amico rolled, simmered and overflowed with power seemingly at will, showing again why he is one of the most underrated drummers in the jam scene. By the time they got to the crowd sing-a-long favorite “Spine Of A Dog”, the cobwebs were cleared and everyone was locked into the love ritual of call-and-response and build-and-release that makes a good show transcend to the level of magic. By the time moe. flowed from “Spine” into the opening strands of set closer “Plane Crash”, fans were ready for the boys to stretch their legs and the band was more than happy to oblige. After thirteen minutes of build-and-release that was everything fans had missed and more, Derhak again addressed the crowd with a far less emotional notification: that they’d return after a short break.

Guitarist Al Schnier got the second set started with a twenty-minute take on his “Silver Sun” and the twin pillars of Garvey and Schnier’s fretboard pyrotechnics hypnotized the light-bathed audience. Schnier eventually lured the band into another of his compositions, “Moth”, but the song didn’t make it much past the first pause before Derhak changed the tune by belting out the heartily received opening lines of moe. classic “Captain America”. The uptempo “Captain” tumbled safely into a comfy-yet-crunchy “Hector’s Pillow” before Schnier wrestled them back and got the rest of moe. to rejoin the “Moth” already in progress. moe. played around with the melody and beat of “Moth” before realizing they were hungry for something a little heavier.

As the sweaty musical aroma of what the boys were cooking up finally settled into the strident opening chords of “Meat”, the .rons got themselves into the ready position for the long, wild ride which they knew, from decades of practice, that they were about to embark on. “Meat” is easily one of the best compositions moe. has put together, and is often a clear indicator of where the band is mentally. Over the course of 25 minutes, moe. seemingly moved past thoughts of reassuring the crowd, themselves or anyone else of their readiness to put on a show. They did what professionals are supposed to do…their absolute best in the moment. When the exploring was done and the smoke had cleared, the smiles returned to shell-shocked faces as “Meat” finally gave way to the returning and closing “Moth”.

The “Al.nouncements” made an appreciated return, with special guest Peter Shapiro on hand to present a medal to the returning, bass-destroying Derhak, who seemed, as always, ready to talk about anything but himself. He was pointedly ready to return to his most favored role: slapping his bass and singing his heart out with moe.

Welcome back Rob! @moetheband @capitoltheatre #rebubula

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Closing with an encore of “Wind It Up” was as purely appropriate as anything moe. could have played. The song’s closing, an exhortation to acknowledge the ties that bind us all together, is always a crowd-pleaser and the tune’s central message was made all the more relevant by the evening’s events: “Be on my side, I’m on your side.” Last night there were no truer words spoken in New York, and maybe the world.

There were some wonderful lessons learned by the band and their fans along this journey. Fundraisers, countdowns and sheer outpouring of love from the fans’ side proved once again the rock-solid love moe. has built in their 25+ years of rocking. In fighting and winning his battle with cancer, Derhak has shown up-close-and-personal what we can do when we are faced with immense personal challenges, and how much help the love and support of friends and family can mean in those terrifying times. Fans were forced to remember that even the most routine of things, like seeing their favorite band, is a joyous occasion that can be taken from them with no warning–and should be cherished as such.

The lesson is as simple as it is Universal. Tell the ones you love what they mean to you. Revel in the moments of joy for you never know when they might end. And, as always…go see moe.!

You can check out two galleries of photos from moe.’s 2/2/18 show at The Capitol Theatre below via photographers Jay Blakesberg and Paul Citone.

SETLIST: moe. | The Capitol Theatre | Port Chester, NY | 2/2/18

01. Welcome Back Rob
02. Rebubula (nh)>
03. Akimbo
04. 32 Things
05. What Can I Say (1)
06. Spine Of A Dog (nh)>
07. Plane Crash

01. Silver Sun
02. LL3 (1)
03. Moth >
04. Captain America >
05. Hector’s Pillow >
06. Moth >
07. Meat >
08. Moth
09. Peter Shapiro/al.nouncements
10. Wind It Up

[Cover photo: Jay Blakesberg]