On Weekend Du Mort, when Boulder’s Dead Thing comes out in earnest to jiggle its head and look at its hands and dig the tie-dye out from underneath the spare cycling suit, Joey Porter and his all-star Herbie Hancock tribute show arrives at Fox Theatre just in time to throw a little angular harsh on the dancin’-bear mellow.
For those of you at home playing the Degrees of Separation game, we’ll note that the legendary Chicago-born Hancock, now 78 and long-ago recognized as one of jazz music’s titans, toured his V.S.O.P. group in the early ’80s with the Marsalis brothers; Branford Marsalis made a guest appearance with the Dead at Uniondale in 1990, tripping free on “Bird Song,” “Eyes of the World” (memorably captured on the live set Without a Net) and, during the second set, a dusted-off “Dark Star.” He remembered the gig with Rolling Stone:
“Later, I started getting these phone calls on my private number: ‘Man, you were great last night. Thanks for getting them to play ‘Dark Star.’ They haven’t played it in six months.’ I’m like, ‘Who are these people?’”
So, there’s that.
But the Herbie at the center of Porter’s usually annual tribute show is the mid-’70s Herbie, of Headhunters and supreme jazz-funk legend. We’d give the Motet keyboardist credit for conspiring to go a little sideways on the big Dead and Company weekend, even if the two events sort of happened according to their own cosmic timetables.
“I’ve been doing this for years and years this Herbie Hancock tribute, in different configurations,” Porter tells us, while packing for the High Sierra Festival in California, “and we were just looking at that date wanting to do it there, and then it sort of happens to coincide with the Dead playing [that weekend].”
A hot set in close quarters of stinging mid-’70s Herbie funk to earwash fans who’ve been mainlining the un-funkiest band in recent American popular music history.
“Well, that’s kind of what we’re hoping to achieve, apples/oranges… They’ll be doing the apples thing and then we got our orange show, and by the time we’re doing the orange show, they’ll show up and be excited about it. It’s somethin’ different.”
Porter himself cops to being one of the rare Dead agnostics, a refugee in the lonely barren wastes between the haters and believers.
“I’m in my 40s. I used to see them a bit in the late ’80s and early ’90s, but I was more interested in, like, being away from my parents than I was being into the music. I enjoyed some of the songs, but it was never really my style of music,” he says.
“Some people really hate ’em, some people really love ’em. I’m one of the few people kind of in the middle. Not really polarized.”
We remind Porter that his drummer/bandleader in the Motet, Dave Watts, at a loss for ideas a few years back when the band was doing their annual Halloween trib shows, surrendered to the notion of covering the Dead, funk’ed up style. The show, in fact, was a big success, despite our own skepticism (as in, this reporter recalls, “Dave, what the hell are you doing?”)
“You know what? I thought the same thing, buddy,” Porter says with a laugh.
“I wasn’t really for it, but it was cool. I thought … nobody can make Dead songs sound funky because, like you said, they’re the least funky band ever, and Dave sort of took it as a challenge. We just re-arranged all the tunes, basically changed the drum beats and the basslines, and it worked out. It was fun.”
The Herbie tribute (which also features Watts and Garrett Sayers from the Motet, Dom Lalli from Big Gigantic and Dan Schwindt) fills a brief downtime opening in the Motet’s 2018 tour of conquest, their second year behind the much-lauded 2016 release Totem (including a brilliant headliner set at Red Rocks last June), establishing the band as one of the best and most impactful funk bands in the colonies. This fall will see the band’s eagerly anticipated follow-up. A couple of cuts from the forthcoming release — “Supernova” and “Get it Right” — have already popped up on the band’s website, and one or two others will likely emerge before the album is birthed in the fall.
The band is now working with lead singer Lyle Divinsky and Porter says the writing and production flow is better than ever.
“Lyle makes it a lot easier to write music; he’s really great when we come up with grooves and whatnot and we don’t have that vocal melody on top yet. He’s really great at taking our grooves and chord changes and making really clever melodies and lyrics over the top,” he says.
“He’s good at the thing the rest of us aren’t very good at.”
And while he’s inarguably the new guy on the block, we’re pretty sure that part of the prestidigitation of his entry into the Motet fabric has to do with the fact that, at the risk of stating the obvious, this band has been at this stuff for years — and that’s not just the funk thing, it’s also the Herbie trib, the side projects, the mixtape shows. Nothing rolls off these guys half-assed.
It’d be a dishonor to their peers to call them the area’s hardest working band, since no one gets anywhere in this business anymore without insanely hard work, but when we read Relix’s qualified praise for Totem as coming from a band “that has undergone several lineup changes in its relatively short history,” it’s worth remembering (since the band doesn’t seem to be going out of their way to remind us) that they celebrate their 20th anniversary this year, 12 of which have seen Porter working the keys. (Their playing-out anniversary date is technically Halloween, but this year they’ll be in Vegas, where every day is Halloween.)
How is 20 years a “relatively short history”?
Porter shrugs it off.
“They’ve only been aware for a short period of time.” Pause. “Hahaha.”
Hmmmm. Music writers…
On the bill: Herbie Hancock Tribute featuring Dominic Lalli (Big Gigantic), Dave Watts, Joey Porter and Garrett Sayers (The Motet) and Dan Schwindt (Kyle Hollingsworth Band) — Dead & Co After Party. 10:30 p.m. Friday, July 13, Fox Theatre, 1135 13th St., Boulder. $16-$21. $1 of every ticket will be donated to the Rex Foundation.