An East Coast sensibility for a Bay Area outfit

Sep 2, 2008 at 11:45 pm

Wednesday, Sept. 3

Some time ago, venture capitalist Roger McNamee decided to quit his day job, grow his hair out and, along with his wife, music professor Ann McNamee, form a rock band. The McNamees’ ambitions culminated in Moonalice, a collective that features seasoned players Barry Sless, Pete Sears, Jimmy Sanchez and G.E. Smith.

To McNamee, the group is part of a legendary lost tribe that has celebrated song, dance and hemp since before recorded history. Not surprisingly, Moonalice is based in San Francisco and guided by the ethos of the 1960s West Coast scene. We chatted with Smith, the lone East Coast member who led the “Saturday Night Live” Band.

Photo by Tracey York Publicity: Moonalice features G.E. Smith, third from left, former guitarist and leader of the “Saturday Night Live” band.
Photo by Tracey York Publicity: Moonalice features G.E. Smith, third from left, former guitarist and leader of the “Saturday Night Live” band.

LEO: You’ve had an interesting musical trajectory. When did this all start for you?

G.E. Smith: I’ve been playing longer than I can actually remember. Apparently I was 4 years old when I got an acoustic guitar. And then I got a Telecaster at age 11, and that was that. I had grown up in Pennsylvania, but when I first got to New York, I ran into Hall & Oates, which was a really lucky break for me. I was fortunate enough to be with them at a tremendous time, at the dawn of MTV and all, and you know, we got to play all over the world and meet lots of interesting people.


LEO: That would include the Hot Tuna guys, who are responsible for your current gig, right?

GS: Yeah, my friends Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady knew Roger somehow, and so we all went out to California at one point to help him with arrangements for the Flying Other Brothers, an earlier incarnation of this band, and to get Roger to look at the music a different way.

Then, later on, when Barry Sless went on the road with Phil Lesh & Friends, I was recruited to fill in on guitar. But when Barry got back, they still had dates pending in Alaska, the one state I had never been to. So they allowed me to hang around for that run of shows, and they still haven’t kicked me out.

LEO: How would you describe Moonalice in terms of sound?

GS: It’s a song-based, American roots sort of band. It’s not what I would call a jam band at all. We kind of get lumped in with that genre because most of our guys are from the Bay Area. Whatever you want to call it, it’s gotten real good, and I wouldn’t say that if it wasn’t true.

There is definitely a thread that connects us to the Dead and that sort of thing. But stylistically, I come from the opposite of that whole scene, which makes for a nice combination.

The dual guitar thing that Barry and I do is real interesting because he comes from one place and I come from another, but the two styles together are great.

LEO: Where does the wild mix of material come from?

GS: Ann, Roger, myself and Pete all have original songs that we do. But as far as I’m concerned, any music of the last 1,000 years is fair game for us to cover on any given night. I do a couple songs regularly that are 400 or 500 years old and viciously rearranged.

LEO: There seems to be a concerted effort on your part to channel the spirit of a bygone era. What sets Moonalice apart from its contemporaries? 

GS: We really love doing this and we try to make it fun and accessible for the audience. The Moonalice mythology, which is explained on our website, is customized to incorporate each new town we visit.

We always allow taping, and we usually hang out and mingle after our performance. There’s also an original poster made for every show. Roger tracked down all the guys that are still alive who did the old Fillmore posters in San Francisco and New York. So we definitely offer something unique that is well worth checking out. I think folks will enjoy it. 

Tea Leaf Green

w/ Moonalice 

Wednesday, Sept. 3

Headliners Music Hall 

1386 Lexington Road


$12; 8 p.m.