Ocean Beach loves a funky Saturday night dance party and there was a line around the block at Winston’s to attest to it. Such a lengthy line is rare to see at the venue, with many music fans taking a laissez faire approach to buying tickets these days. But the line to get into the club showed anticipation running high for this fiesta with the Motet from Colorado, who were making their first visit to San Diego in some time.
Some had caught the Motet’s smashing performance at the 2012 High Sierra Music Festival in Northern California, where the band’s “Funk Is Dead” project—covering Grateful Dead tunes with funk and afro-beat arrangements—was one of the festival’s top highlights. The word was clearly getting out. But local funkateers the Earful were also bringing in a draw of their own, as evidenced by how full the intimate club was for their opening set.
The Earful delivered a high energy performance that got the party started right. The band’s 2011 Funk for Your Earhole LP draws on the usual suspects of funk influences like James Brown, P-Funk, the Meters, and local king of funk Karl Denson. The Hammond organ is heavily featured, but the band also brings a tight rhythm section and an ace horn section that elevated one jam after another. There are plenty of funk bands vying for attention these days, and energy is ultimately what tends to separate the contenders from the pretenders. The Earful brought it, and the enthusiastic crowd reflected it back.
There was some question amongst local music mavens about where the Motet should play on this visit, given San Diego’s ongoing issue with a lack of appropriately sized venues for national touring acts. The band had recently played the 3,000-capacity Fillmore Auditorium in their hometown of Denver for the release party of their new self-titled album. They certainly weren’t going to sell that number of tickets here, yet they clearly could have played a larger venue. But Ocean Beach is the heart of San Diego’s jam and funk scene, so it seemed appropriate for the band to put in an appearance at Winston’s.
The only alternatives would be the larger but not quite as funky Belly Up Tavern up the coast in Solana Beach or the grungier Casbah downtown. But hanging out in Ocean Beach before, during, and after a show is without doubt the best vibe the San Diego music scene has to offer. Winston’s can be a pain at sold out shows due to the lack of elbow room and subsequent difficulty in obtaining drinks at the bar. But the Motet drew a feel-good crowd of funky people who were all pushing the good vibe, showing great courtesy to each other throughout the evening.
Vocalist Jans Ingber and the band recall the swinging cosmic funk of Jay Kay and Jamiroquai at times, just one of many elements The Motet are brewing up in their groovy recipe. Saxman Matt Pitts and trumpeter Gabe Mervin can dial up the classic funk, but they’re also adept at the syncopated Afrobeat stylings. Keyboardist Joey Porter and guitarist Ryan Jalbert bring multidimensional tones to the party as well, with both prone to dabbling in space funk psychedelia in addition to more straight-ahead funk grooves. Then there’s the dynamic rhythm section of drummer Dave Watts and bassist Garrett Sayers, holding it all together with style and flair.
The seven-member band is one of those units that rises to a whole that’s greater than the sum of the parts. The Motet propelled the crowd at Winston’s into a non-stop dance frenzy with layered rhythms, tight grooves, and tunes that were all over the funk map. One song had a down-and-dirty syncopation somewhat recalling Bill Wither’s classic “Use Me Up”. A cover of the Ohio Players’ “Love Rollercoaster” was spot on, raising the room’s energy even higher.
What ultimately sets the Motet apart are the tightly layered arrangements. “Extraordinary High” has a break that gets into some cinematic funk, with the band’s x-factor gelling for a superior sequence. “The Fountain” features an ultra-funky electric piano progression recalling classic Stevie Wonder. The song is boosted further with sharp horn lines, a crisp snare drum, and cow bell accents that make getting a groove on downright mandatory. Moments such as these were like getting caught in a funk tractor beam, with no way to resist getting into the groove.
“We realized how effective a great song is with a crowd,” drummer Dave Watts told Boulder Weekly in a recent interview regarding the new album. “Instead of just the energetics we’re used to bringing, with improvisation, soloing and extended arrangements, we really decided to focus on tunes, because we understand how powerful a great song is.”
Such an attitude (and the skills to put it into effect) is ultimately what elevates a good jamband into a band that can crossover and appeal to a larger demographic. The Motet are clearly making strides in that direction, and the results are decidedly groovy.
// Notes from the Road
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