The L in the title of moe.'s latest stands for live. As in the forum to best hear these neo-hippie jammers. As in the only way an album of theirs is going to make much sense. As in an often trippy, sometimes excruciating, always-skillful double-disc set loaded with really long songs and plenty of improv on display (the 12 songs average a whopping 11 minutes). Like fellow post-Dead devotees Phish, the moe. guys are proficient players, capable of working a variety of instruments into their purple-haze stew. At times, the level of dexterity on display rivals that of any accomplished jazz combo.
But the soul beneath these unintelligible (and did I mention long?) songs is pretty much nonexistent. There's some kick-ass jamming going on here, no doubt about it, but these sonic sojourns, culled from the quintet's fall tour last year, reveal little about what makes moe. tick. We glean that they're fine musicians who are able to write a wacky song or two, but 19-minute aural exercises like "Recreational Chemistry" could only satisfy those sharing in their own recreational chemistry (if ya know what I mean). And that doesn't make for universal appeal.
Nor should it. Grateful Dead albums (save one or two) sucked. Deadheads, although not always quick to admit this, would agree the studio inhibited their heroes, kept them from exploring the natural terrain that time lengths on typical pop songs limited. That's why the countless live albums released by the band (which is more prolific than ever; Garcia's death be damned!), not to mention the scary taping cult that resides on the border of freak city, remain the best representation of its myth. But moe.'s no Dead; that's too much pressure. As a junior Phish, though, they've got their shit down. They can toss off bloated jams with the best of the disciples. They offer peculiar vocal showcases ("Spine of a Dog") as well as standard virtuosity-filled fare ("Plane Crash" and "Akimbo"). They let each member grab the spotlight at least one time per song. And with L they've finally gotten around to doing what's best for them. No matter how self-satisfying that sounds.