Review by Rob Gardner
Photos by Alexander Maso
Living in Boulder in the early 2000s, I had the chance to see the Motet grace the stage of The Fox and Boulder Theaters on a regular basis. I would usually see a cadre of devoted female fans along the rail, donning their famous “Dance Your Ass Off” t-shirts and grooving to the funk-laden beats of Dave Watts and the rest of the Motet crew.
Fast forward ten or so years, and the Motet are still laying down some of the most rhythmically complex and infectiously thick funk grooves in the scene today.
After a few previous “Funk is Dead” performances featuring funk interpretations of classic Grateful Dead tunes, the band returned to Portland and their polyrhythmic roots to showcase the sonic diversity that defines the Motet. When they took the stage this past Friday at Portland’s Wonder Ballroom, ringleader and percussionist Jans Ingber greeted the eager crowd and announced, “This is a dance party! I want to see you dance!”
And dance, dance, dance we did. From their first notes, the Motet delivered a relentless rhythmic assault that kept the crowd moving and grooving well into the wee hours of the night.
While the band and their sound has evolved over time, the show demonstrated their deep roots inspired by a lush infusion of African, Cuban and Latin polyrhythms, improvisational jams, and turn-on-a-dime transitions.
As usual, Dave Watts laid down a thick foundation of syncopated beats, Joey Porter delivered his high-energy keyboard funk, Garrett Sayers held up the house with his infectious bass grooves, and Ingber brought it down with his rock solid percussion and inspired vocal soul. Topped with a garnish of some tasty jazz inspired love from the horn section, the Motet was in prime form.
Demonstrating their diverse influences, the Motet ventured into rhythm and blues, soul, electronica, afrobeat, and even a few notable covers, including thick funk renditions of David Bowie’s “Changes” and P-Funk’s “One Nation Under a Groove.” Drawing from a new album-in-the-works, the Motet also introduced a variety of new tracks including Porter’s contribution, the silky smooth “A Closed Mouth Don’t Get Fed.”
The funk fest also featured a variety of musical guests, including Steve Watkins (Porter’s bandmate from side project Juno What ?!) who stepped in on keys, and Portland’s own Tyrone Hendrix, who took over for Watts and laid down some Jazz-inspired beats on the drums. (Ed. note: Hendrix is also the brand new drummer for Juno What ?! and yes, he is related to Jimi.)
Rounding out the guests, Zappa Plays Zappa’s Ben Thomas accompanied Ingber with some incredible vocal acrobatics as the duo melted the sound system with its cosmic harmonies (apparently, they also are quite the duo on the basketball court, as Ingber mentioned their 3-on-3 basketball title on JamCruse 2010!).
While Portland gathered a thinner crowd than previous Motet shows (undoubtedly due to the overlapping schedule with the Oregon Country Fair), it simply left more room to get large and boogie down. This extra space also apparently led to significantly more spillage of beer and other drinks to produce one of the stickiest dance floors in concert history. Between the funk on stage and the funk on the floor, I came close to losing a boogie shoe on several occasions.
As Ingber and the rest of the band scurried to deliver their brief “4 minute” encore, he reiterated that our Motet inspired dance party symbolized a “celebration of life.” He also reminded us that “the Motet Loves Portland,” apparently so much so that he has decided to move here as a permanent resident (as he announced earlier in the show).
With such a tight musical bond between the city of Portland and the Colorado funk outfit, my guess is that we will be treated to many more Motet dance parties to come!