For some years now, The Motet has been leading kind of a schizophrenic life, serving up its regular, originals-heavy set on the festival circuit, while spending some portion of its off time working up cover-version tribute shows for mainly local gigs (Fort Collins, Boulder, Denver.)
Drummer and Motet majordomo Dave Watts says it’s been an effective way to keep the band sharp and shake up what could otherwise be a one-set-per-year grind, and anyone who’s caught the band in full retro-trib form knows that the cover sets are far from perfunctory. Watts and Co. sink their teeth into the material, deftly mining the originals for composition and groove (Parliament/Funkadelic, Earth Wind and Fire) or audacious re-arrangement (Grateful Dead).
But Watts admits that charting up cover shows over the years have helped to move the band’s original material focus into a newly sharpened focus. The band is putting the finishing touches on a new straight-ahead funk record, due out in January and featuring the heartbreaking soulfulness of longtime vocalist Jans Ingber, that reflects Watts’ and the band’s re-energized focus on songcraft.
“After doing all this Halloween stuff,” he told us last week, “[we realized] how effective a great song is on a crowd. Instead of just the energetics [sic] we’re used to bringing, with improvising and soloing and extended arrangements across all the genre changes, we really decided to focus just on tunes, because we realized how powerful a good song is.”
The album was teased by Relix last month, with a video of the new single “123,” featuring Ingber on vox and Porter’s slithery keyboard lines winding their way around the punchy, airtight horn section of Gabe Mervine and Matt Pitts.
In a sense, the covers have drawn The Motet back to their funk and R&B roots.
Having tapped a healthy portion of the band’s retro faves in recent years, Watts ingeniously decided to approach this year’s Halloween gig with “Mixtape 1980.” The mix tape idea cleverly allows the band to mine crowd-familiar material while still being able to drop The Motet into different genres.
“Yeah, 1980. I mean, you had Bob Marley had an album come out then [Uprising], and you listen to some of that stuff and still it’s so rootsy. And then you had Devo, who had this hit with ‘Whip It.’ So you have ‘Work’ by Bob Marley, and ‘Whip It’ by Devo, and this all came out in the same year? It’s like, 1980 was some kind of weird crossroad,” Watts says.
The Motet plays the Boulder Theater on Thursday, Oct. 31. Doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25 in advance, $30 day of show.