The Motet, The Grottos, Aspen, CO- 8/30
I arrived in Aspen, CO after a long road trip down from Portland, OR. Seeing the Motet play in Aspen was just a small part of a larger plan (read next month’s Improvise Column for the whole picture). Looking back, I am so happy that I put the Motet near the top of my list of bands to see while in Colorado. I’ve seen the band play many times before and I always count on a percussive filled, Americubafrican, funky, jamming evening of musical textures and danceable improvisational explorations. Each time I’ve seen the band, however, they seemed to lean heavily on one of their many great styles in particular.
For instance, a recent Portland show was all about the percussion. They drummed and drummed using all sorts of different bells, bongos and drums and this theme recurred throughout the evening. Other times I’ve seen them play mostly straight ahead rocking guitar-driven jams for most of the night with only a few Latin or percussive groove interludes. I don’t know if it was something in the thin Aspen air or just random luck, but this band busted out one of the highest energy and musically well-rounded shows I’ve ever seen them play.
It was a Friday night in Aspen, CO. Gov’t Mule and Phil and Friends had played earlier in the evening for the masses at the Jazz Aspen Snowmass Festival, and the Motet was one of two options for late night music fans. The Motet’s ability to draw a packed house (albeit a small one) was impressive considering that the powerhouse duo of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and Deep Banana Blackout were playing a competing show just a few streets away at the Double Diamond. But by the time the Motet played a brief sound check, the mostly full venue boogied along. By the time the actual show started, the place was packed and positively thumping.
The Grotto’s is a great little bar. We met the owner, Tim, who treated us very kindly and we soon settled in with a few drinks. The stage area is in the front corner of this small room, and the bar itself and some seats are along back. As the first notes came from the stage, everyone seemed to rush for the dance floor. In two minutes, the floor was jam packed. The Motet seemed to grab this invisible ball of energy and run with it from the very beginning of the show. They slammed through a few percussive filled numbers that had the place warm and sweaty in no time. Keyboardist Greg Raymond particularly shined early on with several long, energy-building solos on the organ.
As the band settled in and got comfortable, the music began to cook more. It seemed like we were in a room full of unknown celebrities as there were quite a few thin, tan, Colorado beautiful people in the house. The band churned out their unique dance music and things got funky and sensual as many couples, some old and some brand new, began to grind and dance closely with one another. Smiles were plastered across almost every face in the room as the band fed off of this palpable love and energy. Soon everyone was dancing with wild abandon as the energy levels exploded and arms and legs flailed.
Percussive grooves fueled by drummer Dave Watts were peppered with chanting vocals from Jans Ingbar and melted into instrumental meanderings to either breakdown totally and start anew or slowly rebuild the wall of energy once again. Things would heat up into a frenzy and cool back down into slower grooves, but the slower grooves were becoming few and far between as the evening progressed, ultimately becoming non-existent. The floor was a squirming wall of people. Everyone was bumping into everyone else, but no one seemed to mind. It was one big intensely beautiful and grooving smile fest.
Things couldn’t get much better, but I was wondering what I might possibly be missing over at the Double Diamond. Wonder no longer! When I came back to the floor after a bathroom break, I noticed the funky sounds of a saxophone coming from the stage. Hope Clayburn from Deep Banana Blackout had joined the Motet on stage and was ripping a great solo. She wailed for a good fifteen minute jam and the packed house seemed to appreciate this small taste of the show they were missing. This was not the only sample of the other show happening in town, however. Dirty Dozen’s guitarist, James McLean, appeared later in the Motet’s set and traded some guitar licks with Mike Tiernan as the energy-level bar was raised once again.
People danced harder than almost any crowd I’ve seen for almost three straight hours with no breaks at all. The Motet ripped through a colorful range of all of their musical styles, never falling back on one style in particular. The show had great instrumental jams, fun Latin dance numbers, nice vocals, and their signature tribal percussive flair. Although they were supposed to finish up around 1:40am according to the owner of the bar, I clocked the ending show time at about 2:05am. The Motet finished things off with a huge drum jam that got the place pumped up one last time. A cop showed up to make sure there was no after hours boozing going on, and everyone talked with one another and the band as the evening concluded. We walked away that night with very tired feet, but very energized souls.