Denver, Colorado, may be home for funk septet The Motet, but recent strong receptions in the Sierra Nevada prompted them to book a two-night, Presidents’ Day weekend groove-a-thon in Crystal Bay Club’s Crown Room. Despite a cold start Sunday night owing to the storm that seemed to take everyone by surprise, the band wrapped the run with a solid show.
The Monophonics were due to open, but as showtime approached they were nowhere to be found. The San Francisco Soul/R&B outfit was excited to share cuts from its latest record “Mirrors.” Featuring soul covers that Tahoe Onstage editor Tim Parsons called “a six-song treasure,” they’d have been a wonderful lead in to the headliner. By the time they arrived, however, they had no other choice but to play the second slot in the Red Room after-party behind scheduled Bay Area band Tracorum.
Later in the evening I found lead vocalist Kelly Finnigan, slumped over his half unpacked keyboard while waiting to set up. “This sucks,” said a crushed and exhausted Finnigan. “We got stuck in that traffic on 80 and got totally screwed.” Facing my own 1 a.m, excursion over the ice-rink that was Mount Rose Highway, I wasn’t able to stay, but I hope we get to see them on the Crown Room stage soon.
The Monophonics’ troubles resulted in The Motet doing something it likely hadn’t in years, kicking off its high-energy show to an unwarmed-up room. Between the travel conditions outside and most attendees thinking there would be an opener, it was an odd beginning that the band soldiered through. Thankfully, word got around, and by the time new tune “Supernova” was laid down with its Kool and the Gang-esque bumping rhythm and funky licks from bassmaster Garrett Sayers, the room filled and bubbled with energy.
The Motet also debuted “Dream” later on that departs from the radio-friendly feels of “Supernova” and is an up-tempo assault featuring jams from Joey Porter on keyboards and talk-box and Ryan Jalbert on guitar. It’s a great live-show tune and I expect it will be a staple of future Motet sets.
A pair of new songs weren’t the only debuts on the Crystal Bay stage Sunday. Long-time trumpeter Gabe Mervine announced his departure in January, and Chicago’s Parris Fleming showed he’s already fitting in nicely alongside saxophonist Drew Sayers. His solo spots will evolve as he organically finds his place in the band, but he displayed some of the chops he’s shared onstage with the likes of Big Gigantic and Dumstaphunk in the past.
Frontman Lyle Divinsky’s vocals and energy are a universe all their own, but founder and drummer Dave Watts originally put together The Motet as an instrumental band. I love how they stay true to their roots each night by offering three or four selections to let the roots get some air. Sunday was no exception, with the methodical break-down beats, spacey keys and horn solo of “Cloak and Dagger” to the jazz-fusion funk punch of “Rippin’ Herb” and the darker and airy “Nemesis.” Ryan Jalbert’s guitar work also shone through in numerous rhythm and solo spots.
While the music nerds were satisfied by the vocally vacant tunes, there’s no question that the show out front is all about Divinsky. His infectious smile and boundless energy endear him to the hundreds of eyes upon him, while his ridiculous range makes him a master of belting out terrific sing-along hooks that snare an audience. Tunes such as “Back It Up,” “Danger,” “Jam” and “So High” are catchy, Motet dance-party fun.
The Motet is in a great groove right now and I can’t wait to see what the rest of the new record produces, and hope that they’re back soon to share it.
– Michael Smyth