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Columns > John Zinkand - Improvise

Published: 2001/11/20
by John Zinkand

The Motet Gorge Voyage

I used to really love the band Shockra. They were a bar band that toured quite a bit in New England in the early 90s. Shockra had a great funky groove that was really ahead of its time. They were also very special to me as they were the first bar band I was able to see frequently just as I turned 21 and could actually go to bar shows and drink to the music with the big boys and girls. Yes, it was a grand time, indeed. But then they broke up and the party was over. All the guys still played music, but none of their new bands seem to compare to the power of Shockra. Recently, though, that has changed.
Dave Watts, former Shockra drummer, has been playing with a band out of Boulder, CO for the last few years and they really jam face. They are called The Motet and have been touring all the time in a quest to spread their unique Electric Americubafrican Groove. Their sound takes from every style this description implies and then some. The music varies from fast jazzy instrumental jams to smooth Latin rhythms or African influenced percussion and call and response. The band consists of Dave Watts on drums, Scott Messersmith on percussion, Jans Ingber on vocals and percussion, Mike Tiernan on guitar, Greg Raymond on keys and organ, and Paul McDaniel on the bass. Their deep foundation of percussion gives them the ability to play intense and richly textured Latin, African, and Cuban flavored grooves.
I was first introduced to the band at the High Sierra Music Festival 00 in Quincy, CA the first year they played there. They seemed to impress almost everyone in attendance with their great music. I loved the band immediately and made a mental note not to miss them when they came through. Since then, Ive seen them every time theyve come to my home town of Portland, OR.
Recently they came here and played the Mt Tabor Pub. I used to kind of like this place. It was really laid back and admission was usually pretty cheap too. The price at the door has been steadily increasing for every band I see there on any night of the week, however. I wouldnt mind this at all if they enhanced my concert experience, but they have done absolutely nothing to improve the place. In fact, in addition to the consistently higher admission prices, theyve now decided to take away the free water cooler and replace it with 10 oz. bottles of water that one may purchase for only $1.50. Also, the mens bathroom is a disgusting excuse for a lavatory facility. Theres no door to the stall that is eternally littered with unsightly filth the likes of which will not be further graphically described. And theres only one urinal. Add to this the fact that the place always runs out of the most popular beers like my personal favorite, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, on a busy night and that it is now packed to the point of being uncomfortable for many of the national acts, and you have one relatively unpleasant venue.
I do still go to shows at Mt. Tabor if I really like the band and The Motet is definitely a band I hold in high regard. I checked out the show and had a good time, but my experience was definitely hampered by the venue. Coming in kind of late I knew that not only finding a chair would be impossible, but that just finding an open space to stand and sway with my beer was going to be pretty difficult. There was a little bit of open space right next to the few folks taping the show, so I stood and watched the show from there. The place was pretty packed and the band put on a high energy performance that seemed to highlight their flair for their more tribal and percussive influences, with a great guitar jam erupting only every now and then. From my vantage point, however, I could see many dread locks swinging around happily in the smoky air to the music. I knew the band was playing the next night in the town of Hood River, which is only about an hour drive from Portland, and I decided to go.
The next night, I happily drove through the scenic Columbia River Gorge (its a heck of a lot more scenic in the daytime) to my destination. I met up with a few friends at the Chinese restaurant with the big panda bear statue in front of it at the junction of 35 South and I-84 in Hood River and we all enjoyed some pre-show dinner. We spoke of how our friend Molly was going to be at the show that night, too. I didnt know too much about Molly, but I heard she had a great disposition and was someone that most people really liked to see a show with. Not being too shy, I was happy to meet and hang with a new friend, especially while taking in the incredible audio tapestry that is The Motets sound.
I wasnt too sure of what to expect from a venue located in a little windsurfing town out in the middle of the Gorge, but upon our arrival I was pleasantly surprised. The River City Saloon was almost the exact opposite of Mt. Tabor the night before. As we entered the large building we were greeted by a very friendly door person who asked us for the price of admission, which was two dollars less than the previous night. Once inside, the place was a spectacle to behold. The dark grain wood bar itself, the mirror, and the glass shelves behind the bartender were all very stately. There was a great selection of tap beers as well as a full bar. The walls around the spacious room were painted in various bright pastels and were decorated with colorful artwork. There were some wind surfing sails hanging up in the ceiling fixtures reminding us what most people come to this town to do. Near the back of the bar were a few large and comfy couches that were not dirty and dingy like most bar couches. The foosball table sits next to the couches near the little brightly lit hallway that takes you to the clean bathrooms.
Out in front of the actual bar is the main floor. It is a fairly narrow wooden floored area that opens up into a bigger dance floor as one walks further into the venue towards the stage that sits against the back wall. There are some tables on the sides of the bigger dance floor area in front of the stage on the right, and a pool table on the left side. I quickly decided that this place would be one of my favorite venues in Oregon, too bad it was an hour away.
I returned from a bathroom visit and noticed the presence of a new friend, Molly. She seemed chill and we hung out a bit and seemed to really hit it off. As the music started the excitement level in the room began to rise and many of the people in attendance began to dance. I was feeling groovy and tingly. I had a sensation of little electrodes running up and down my skin as if the music were an electric pulse that physically touched me through the air. I sunk into one of the couches at the back of the room and kind of faded in and out of a blissful state while the music played and the tan, fit, and attractive citizens of Hood River grooved on the floor in front of the The Motet. As I leaned back someone, maybe Molly, treated me to a back rub that was the most enjoyable massage I have ever experienced. I could feel the muscles being kneaded and with each rub I could feel negative energy being wrung from their aching strands. As the Motets various grooves pounded on my ears in a tidal wave of rhythm and sound, I sunk deep into the middle of the couch.
Once inside the couch I was in a sea of its brown fabric. I swam around happily here and there, occasionally spotting a dolphin or seal to swim with. The waters turned into visible music which vibrated more brightly than the bluest Hawaiian ocean. All the while, I knew my new friend was right along with me and I opened my eyes to see all of my friends talking, smiling, and grooving to the music. I looked over at the little table that was sitting next to our couch and grabbed my jack-n-coke. I took down the last sip of the beverage and realized immediately that this would be the last sip of alcohol for me on this night. A wave of strange energy had begun to wash over me which was causing a thirst only the universal solvent could quench. I walked over to the cooler and got myself my first of many free drinks of water on this evening.
As I poured my water, I looked down towards the stage area through the pulsing mass of beautiful people dancing. The lights were warm and inviting, and attracted me like some sort of homing beacon until I found myself immersed in sound, dancing bodies, and color. I looked over my shoulder and nodded to my new friend as we both closed our eyes and began to levitate. At first we hung just a few inches off the floor, but with each elevation in the energy of the jam the Motet was churning out, we were pushed higher and higher up. Finally we were dancing on an invisible cushion of firm air that seemed to sit in a layer just above the floor dancers heads below us. We frolicked and danced wildly as sound peeled off into light and then changed to the electric tingles and pulses that soothed our bodies with their cosmic rubdown.
We sunk back into the crowd, seemingly weighed down by the moisture and sweat that was being worked up by the throbbing mass. I watched as a couple danced together cheek to cheek very merrily as if they were at some psychedelic ballroom dance. Some folks shook with serious energy while others twirled and I stood there for a moment taking it all in. Looking down to my paper cup of water, I realized it was now empty and that the place was really beginning to heat up. I closed my eyes and delved into a groove that was now the color red. I moved and shook to the beat as the image of spicy peppers floating around in a sticky sauna came to me. Suddenly, the red turned to blue as a soothing blast of cool air came through the place. The music changed gears to something fluffier as the temperature cooled and smiles lit up the room. The intensity level was kicked up a notch and I assumed this was a cosmic gift from Jah or something. Then I looked over to see a person holding open the door located just behind the pool table near the packed dance floor. Nice. A smile and a quick thumbs-up were given in thanks by some.
As the first set came to an end, the fuzzy warm vibrations were enveloping me. It was as if air was made up of a cozy cotton that luxuriously rubbed against my sweaty skin. I found a friend or two and we agreed to take a little walk outside. The quiet and cool darkness of outside hit abruptly and in sharp contrast to what had just taken place. The cool silence settled in on my ears and mind like a comforting blanket of snow. As we walked up the street, the fuzzy buzz of the cottony first set of music the Motet had performed replayed in my head. We found a street corner that faced some warehouses that looked like something out of a ghost town and fired up the glass. The sacred herb really warmed the soul on this brisk evening and we returned to the River City Saloon in a very happy state of mind.
As the second set began, it was obvious that a few patrons had decided to call it a night after the first set. This was just fine with us. The increased dancing room on the floor was very much to our liking. The Motet started right in with song after song of relentless groove. Molly and I really boogied hard as the jams got deeper and deeper, until we actually became part of the music. We found ourselves inside the bass guitar twirling and flopping around like a pair of goldfish in a fish bowl. The bass lines provided the perfect thumping beat for us and we breathed it all in through our skin. Next we found ourselves strung tightly along the neck of the guitar as strings. Each barrage of guitar picking caused us to vibrate and emit sounds from our mouth, ears, and eyes. We were on a long and wonderful journey.
As the music continued, we looked out at the audience from the stage. The lights bathed them all as they danced very hard on the spacious floor while the cool breezes came in from the door. Suddenly I felt as if I was vibing perfectly with the main beat of the current jam. I had the sensation of swinging back and forth rapidly and looked up to see Daves face. I was a drumstick! As the jam got deeper, the rhythms became more erratic and I was swung about furiously. Just as I was swung into a crash symbol, I leapt up and over the band doing back flips until I landed among the crowd and beside all of my friends once again.
Just then the band went into a tune that Shockra used to play, Do What You Want, and I was stoked. They jammed it out great and I really enjoyed the vocal styling with which they approach the song now as compared to when Shockra played it. The extra verses were good, too. As the show ended and the houselights came on, I noticed that all of the tired people were happily glowing from the energy that had just been exchanged. I said good bye to all my friends, old and new, and headed back to Portland after a crazy night. What a great time! Luckily, I wasnt driving.

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