Moonalice is a Bay Area psychedelic roots-rock band, an adventurous group of veteran musicians, unrestrained by genre and into extended improvisation, who consider their performances a communal and artistic experience with their audience. Sound familiar?
They open for The Marshall Tucker Band this Friday at the Uptown.
On the phone last week, founding band member Roger McNamee (guitar, bass, vocals) talked about the original idea for the band in 2007. “The notion of Moonalice,” McNamee said, “is we were going to be making something that was essentially a tribute to the gestalt of San Francisco ‘60s psychedelia but was going to be all new music.
“That’s what caused us to think about the whole package and go, ‘We’re going to do a poster for every show. We’re going to try to have modern versions of the old light shows.’ It’s the thing that caused us to broadcast initially over Twitter, later over live stream and then every single show over our own network. Those were all things that borrowed from ideas that emerged out of ‘60s San Francisco, and we were going to take the new technology and upgrade it dramatically.”
It’s no surprise that fans consider Moonalice to be disciples of the Grateful Dead, but McNamee is precise and circumspect about the connection. “On any given night, there are three or four Dead tribute bands playing somewhere in the Bay Area,” he said, “and if you’re us and somebody says, ‘Well, you’re influenced by the Grateful Dead,’ I say yes, but we’re not a tribute band. We’re nowhere near that. There are all these awesome tribute bands and they really do have deservedly large followings, but we’re mostly playing our own stuff.
“The common thing among us is that we’ve played with and been fans of members of the Grateful Dead. Nobody in our band played in the Dead or onstage with them, but Pete (Pete Sears, multi-instrumentalist, vocals) was a close friend of Jerry Garcia, and each of us has played in various bands with the members since Jerry died. John Molo has been Phil Lesh’s most important drummer over the years. Barry Sless (lead guitar, pedal steel) has also played in Phil’s band. Pete and Barry and I have played many political gigs with Bob Weir and Mickey Hart.”
McNamee went on to describe in some detail Moonalice’s influences well beyond the Dead. “Barry’s influences are primarily in the bluegrass and country world,” he said. “John Molo is deeply influenced by jazz. He went to college with Bruce Hornsby and was the drummer in Hornsby’s band, The Range, for 20 years. Then he played with John Fogarty. Pete came from England, was in Jefferson Starship, and before that played with Rod Stewart.
“Other influences might not be so obvious. Bob Dylan, The Beatles, huge, huge, huge influences. I think that’s true of everybody our age. The Band has been a huge influence on Moonalice in particular. We’re more heavily informed by the notion of playing folk music on electric instruments. We’re a song-oriented jam band as opposed to an improvisation-oriented jam band.”
McNamee is particularly proud of the poster art that is integral to Moonalice’s identity and presentation. “We’re now 915 posters into the series and it continues to work night after night,” he said. “We’re up to 35 artists who have done posters for us. Chris Shaw has been the art director from the beginning.
Alexandra Fischer, who is married to Chris, joined us as deputy art director three years ago. They’ve done a masterful job — 915 posters in a little bit less than nine years and they’ve never missed a deadline.”
Asked about the band’s name, McNamee said that in 2007 they began with a very long list of contenders, then narrowed it down to three or four. “We let Chris Shaw have the final vote. He picked Moonalice out of the list. Where did it come from? It came from Jackie Gleason and the Honeymooners. Chris picked it because the two words were an awesome inspiration for artists. The moon is just a great artistic inspiration and with Alice you can do anything related to women.”
An extensive audio/video archive of live Moonalice performances can be found at moonalice.com/media.
Friday, May 6, 8 p.m., opening for The Marshall Tucker Band. $30-$40. Uptown Theatre, 1350 Third St., Napa. 707-259-0123. UptownTheatreNapa.com. Moonalice will also be performing at BottleRock on the Miner Family Winery Stage on Saturday, May 28, at 8:45 p.m.