Photos By Johne Edge
The Scene: The Motet’s annual Halloween throw-down has become a pretty serious tradition along the Front Range over the past few years. While the event used to be held at Cervantes’, the last two years have seen the band sell out the rather spacious Ogden Theatre well in advance and even expand to a second night at The Bluebird. With tickets going for nearly twice face value in the days leading up to the show, it wasnt much of a surprise to see a whole bunch of folks out front with their fingers high in the air as we rolled up Colfax on Saturday. There were some tickets to be found, but they were few and far between and in the couple of minutes I milled around out front, it was looking like the folks that were the most decked out were snatching them up . . . it pays to commit I guess.
As usual, nearly everyone who packed the Ogden was costumed up in grand fashion. It was no challenge to find Waldo due to the unusually large number of them in the room and of course there were plenty of sequins and afros dotting the crowd, but there were a few folks who went over the top. The bartender upstairs who did himself up like a late 80s Jerry Garcia was a hit, as was a mad scientist, and there was even a 70s WNBA player in the mix. One thing was clear as a DJ warmed up the crowd with everything from The Jackson 5 to Warren Zevon, everyone was out to party and by the time The Motet took the stage at about 10:30, the excitement had reached a fever pitch.
The Motet: In past years The Motet has donned the musical costumes of Michael Jackson, Madonna, The Talking Heads, and Earth Wind and Fire, but this year, the band ventured a little further from their comfort zone as they took on the project of funkifying the music of The Grateful Dead. While it was a bit of a stretch in the minds of some, these guys pulled it off with flying colors. From the opening notes of “Feel Like A Stranger” it was evident that bassist Garrett Sayers was going to be one of the stars of the evening as his funky basslines gave the track a bouncy feel that got the whole room grooving.
From there the pace picked up with one of the highlights of the entire evening, a dirty, dirty version of “New Speedway Boogie” that got the whole crowd into the action as we sang along with the chorus of “one way or another . . . ” at the top of our lungs. The band even broke things down near the end to let the crowd take over completely. It was a moment of shared exuberance and the band fed off the energy that was pouring onto the stage as they slammed into a version of “Playin’ In The Band” that could have pumped through the PA at Studio 54 back in the day. The horns were funky, the bass deep, and the guitar solos tight and punchy.
The mid-set “Terrapin” slowed things up just a bit and allowed us all to catch our breath before Sayers’ bass ushered in an epic combination of “Shakedown Street” and “St. Stephen” to close out a very memorable set. While “Shakedown” was the one song that every fan in the room knew they would hear due to its heavy Disco influence, The Motet did a fantastic job of doing the original proud and the horns put it over the top. When the DJ returned to keep us dancing as the band left the stage for a break, we were all left to wonder if they had set the bar too high during the first set.
After about 30 minutes, the “Scarlet Begonias” opener let us all know that there was a lot left in the tank as they burst into the classic Garcia / Hunter song and picked up right where they had left off. While it was still a funky good time, the second set featured more exploratory jamming than the first set had, and this led to more peaks and valleys in the music. Highlights included one of my personal favorite tunes, “Estimated Prophet” and a run through the quintessential triptych of “Help On The Way,” into “Slipknot,” into “Franklin’s Tower” that featured an amazing solo from keyboardist Joey Porter.
The set wrapped up well after 1 AM with a take on “Fire On The Mountain” that segued into a raging “Lovelight” with another mind-bending solo from Sayers. The band waved goodbye to the sweaty costumed crowd as we clamored for more, and quickly disappeared backstage. It wasn’t more than a minute or two before they appeared again and Dave Watts and Scott Messersmith broke into a drum segment that served as the introduction to an appropriately funked up version of “They Love Each Other.” The only real mis-hit of the evening came when the whole band stood with their arms around each other and gave us their version of “And We Bid You Goodnight.” While they gave their best shot at the a capella closer that The Dead performed countless times in their storied career, it just didn’t measure up and left us all a bit flat.
Maybe the band felt it as well, because they decided to funk that and thank us all for a real good time with “Loose Lucy” as the clock approached quarter to 2 in the morning. As the last notes faded away and the band took a final bow I couldn’t help but think that The Motet had really outdone themselves this year. Sure, all of their previous Halloween shows have been great fun, but this time they did so much more than just cover another artists material. They completely reinvented the music of one of the true legendary catalogs in rock music in a way that Phil, Bobby, Mickey, Billy and Jerry would be proud of.
Stage Presence: A
Set Light Show: A+