It was a sweaty dance party for sure, and ain’t those the best anyway? That’s what they’d come to Santa Cruz for, and that’s why the funky people in Santa Cruz came to Moe’s Alley that Wednesday night – for groovy dance music! Yay, we were all in the right place! I had a chance to catch this band last summer at the (hopefully inaugural) Santa Cruz Mountain Sol Fest and they really tore up the lawn.
So, again, who is The Motet? Together since the late 90’s in various forms, created by Dave Watts, who sits back on the drums, this band also includes a killer rhythm section in Joey Porter (keys), Garrett Sayers (bass) and Ryan Jalbert (guitar), Matt Pitts (sax) and Gabriel Mervine (trumpet) in the horn section, and Jans Ingber out front on lead vocals, congas, tambourine and funky dance moves. With penned descriptions out there such as frenzied, force on stage, spontaneous, textured rhythms, driving beats where dance music meets free-form….. and influences such as like Earth Wind and Fire, Parliament Funkadelic, Tower of Power, Jamiroquai and Fela Kuti…. And Prince and the Average White Band and K.C. and the Sunshine Band….. it’s clear why this band creates such a party… and a sweaty dance party at that!!
From the first funky beat to the last rippin’ note, it was non-stop groove, jazz, funk, boogie – I’m not sure anyone in that place could sit still. I tell ya, after their first set, which started, um, a tad late at 9:40-sumpthin’ and wrapped up at 11:00, I thought about it….. I had a snap of the set list. I’d been hiking the day before and was wiped out. But, I hate leaving shows early. I feel like I’m gonna miss something. Well, and I am there to not just take pictures but to tell y’all about how the show was, so if I miss half of it, then, well, I’m not doing my part. So, I stuck it out. Man, I’m so glad I did.
Opening up the dance party with, “Just Around the Corner” a jazzy number, it’s lyric-less but filled with imaginative words placed in your mind by all the sounds and energy from the stage. This is what I like about bands like The Motet – the ability to paint a story without uttering a word. And if that number was jazzy, the next, simply called, “Like We Own It” was very groovy, friggin’ funky, and seriously soulful until about ¾ of the way through, they pick up the beat to a full on disco jam. It also gets Jans to the mic, his voice very smooth and right in the middle of the harmonies the other guys put out. Vocals, trumpet, saxophone, congas, keys and other odd noises; the lone guitar playing rhythm and lead, the bass laying down the funk but maybe even taking the lead on occasion….. and it’s all glued together with the kit in the back – they owned it for sure. Jans is up and putting out some funky dance moves, grooving up on stage along with the dancin’ hippies in the crowd. How he finds those spots on stage to move into…. The stage at Moe’s is tight, this is a 7 piece band, and, well, he’s not small in stature. I’m telling ya, this band got that place raging fast – some serious music to keep you seriously moving.
From jazz to psychelic jams, “Cut the Cake” rolled into “Africano” rather seamlessly. Dave’s quick beats timed on the drums (how does he do that – arms and legs in all different directions, yet, it’s all so controlled and planned), it was driven mainly by the rhythm section – bass, keys, drums, guitar and Jans on the congas, just going for it. Ryan’s guitar was floating all of that place, swirling, echoing and soaring. The song pulls you back to a faster rhythm and gives the horn section some good space to blow it out at the end. There is more than just a little something psychedelic about them, the way Ryan and Joey can sound at times, trippy and all up in your head, just poking around in places you’d forgotten about. To have an awakening, a musical awakening is what we seek sometimes, and when a band gives back, well, that’s something burned into your soul.
Jans says, “It’s gonna be a sweaty one in here, yes! And, sweaty dance parties are the best dance parties. That’s all there is too it. If you don’t groove your body and get all the way down, you don’t sweat!” He points to the front corner of the stage and says, “This is my sweaty dance party forming right here. They ain’t scared!”
“Rich in People”, a slower groove, it’s a song that questions the value of money or people, things or life. “Your money, can’t buy us. Or rules define us. So see us as equal. We’re rich in people.” They give a space to allow Garrett a chance to make that bass sing, with just a little support from the drums and sythesized keys. It gets all big and funky in the middle, and I look over to see Joey messing with a white tube that I had noticed laying there earlier. He hooks one end to something and puts the other end of the tube in his mouth. Oh yeah – they go into potentially the best f^*king part of the whole first set as Joey goes all up in synthesizer land with “More Bounce to the Ounce” by that funk band Zapp. You remember it! “Get-get-get-get-get-get on the dance floor, baby. Get down, mama, yeah. Get down. Get-get-get-get-get-get on the dance floor, baby. I never ever, ever seen a sexy girl like you, baby. Ooh-wee, ooh-wee, ooh-wee, ooh-wee, ooh-wee, ooh-wee, oh-wee, yeah, yeah, Shake it mama! Give you more bounce to the ounce!” Not a synthesizer but an old school talk box, the way they used to do it back in the 70’s and 80’s – by using a tube that goes into the singer’s mouth, together they act like a sound chamber through which the talk box changes the voice. Peter Frampton used it, Joe Walsh, well, and Zapp of course. White boy definitely got funk. And, right before that was their nod to another funk outfit, L.T.D. with “Back in Love, Again” brings ya right back to the 70’s, American Bandstand style, with the paisley patterns and sequence, bright colors and bell bottoms. Can I just say, Gabriel and Matt took this song to shiny place!!
I look at my watch and see they’d been playing an hour and almost think, hum, I wonder if this will just be one long set. Nope – Jans grabs the mic and lets us know they’d play one or two more, take a break and be back! I’m tired…. Should I stay or? Of course I’m sticking around for two more….. Closing the first set with two originals, “Rynodub” and “Closed Mouth Don’t Get Fed”, tracks three and four off of their self-titled album, The Motet (2014), their seventh release to date. One purely funky and lyric-less, and one, well, just as funky but a little quicker on the hips and certainly, jazzier on the horns and vocals, this one is more along the lines of Parliament Funkadelic or a funkier Earth, Wind and Fire. I hear someone close by say, “I can’t believe how funky this is!” referring to all that is “Rynodub.” But why can’t you believe it – it is The Motet after all! This is another one of those spacey, trippy, funky songs they do. Stretchy, atmospheric, strong on the horns, a little on the Galactic side, but deeper in the groove pocket. Almost reminded me a little of something Sly and Robbie might do. Yeah.
It’s now 11:15 or something…. Their first set was over an hour. Since they’d started the first set late, I wondered how long this break would be…… and how long the second set would be…… Then I decided to just stop wondering and make the decision to stick with it. So, I stay. Not one regret in my bones either. If I thought the first set was, well, great (putting it lightly), then I know I’ll feel the same, if not more-so, for their second. And, for an hour and a half more, I did. Dance party part two! Jans forewarns, “Gettin’ a little nastier,” he says, “why not!!”
Opening the second set with, “1, 2, 3” it’s a very groovy horn-driven party tune, and another one found on their latest release. It has a taste of R&B, funk and alotta soul, with a little space for that bass jam too. This one moves into, “Keep On”, another tune that gives the talk box a little more action – my gosh, that just adds so much funky stuff to any song, and, Joey sure knows how to use it!
This next one, “Kalakuta Show”, is a Fela Kuti song and took me a little by joyous surprise. I’ve a little fondness for the Kuti music of Nigeria, Fela and his sons Femi and Seun and that beautiful Afrobeat they create. This had to have been the most improvisational, most exploratory, most psychedelically driven jam from that stage all night. Ryan’s lead was out there, in the stars, swirling around like a fire ball in the sky, drawing you up along with it, the earth band below and holding it all together for the landing. Between Ryan’s guitar and Joey on the keys, exchanging jams back and forth, I wasn’t sure who got crazier than the next, but the place was thick and colorful with atmosphere.
Tossing in a few more influences, a super funky “Dance, Music, Sex, Romance” by Prince, “Use the Force” by Jamiroquai, “Fight the Power” by the Isley Brothers (Odd you think? Well, listen now, the Isley Brothers got groove) and the two-fer-ish encore, “Get Down Tonight” into what they listed as, “Jungle Jazz”, a super slow and sticky version of “Jungle Boogie”, this was one funky beat driven KC & the Sunshine Band montage, Motet style. Gabriel blowing so hard on that trumpet, you know how to tell, so hard you can see that huge vein on the side of his neck.
Back to “Use the Force” for a minute, because, off of that upbeat Afro-Cuban jam, they pull out ten minutes of some indescribably spacey stuff, has a smoothness to it, not necessarily jazz but something that makes you sway along. From Jamiroquai to an original, “Nemesis”, which is off of their Dig Deep release (2009), starts out just on the keys. It almost reminded me a little of Stevie Wonder’s, “Superstition”, the way it grooved along making your head rock back and forth up on your neck. Maybe a little less on the big horn section, and a lot less on the lyrics, it electrifies your body and tweaks your mind. Closing the second set with, “Mighty” this is another smooth, horn driven jazz number, one I can’t seem to find on any of their releases, but there is a recording out there if you want to hear it.
What can I say about The Motet? Go see them! It is guaranteed to be improvisational, funky, psychedelic, rhythmic, and full – and one seriously groovy, sticky hot sweaty dance party you won’t forget.
Set Two: 1-2-3> Keep On, Kalakuta Show, Dance Music Sex Romance, Use the Force, Nemesis > Fight the Power, Extraordinary High> Mighty
Encore: Get Down Tonight> Jungle Jazz