Aspen Times Weekly: Who’s playing on Halloween
One Halloween in the mid-’90s, the Young Dubliners, a band comprising mostly Irish-born players who had relocated to Los Angeles, showed up for a gig at the old Double Diamond. I happened to stop by the club while the band was preparing for sound check, and I asked the members what their plans were for the big occasion – costumes, special songs, antics. They were clueless about Halloween – they did inform me about Guy Fawkes Day, the U.K.’s politically inspired, sort-of equivalent of Halloween – and they dutifully rounded up some green outfits and shamrocks for that night’s festivities.These days, it’s hard to imagine a band, at least in Colorado, showing up for a Halloween gig without special preparations. In the past, it was enough for the musicians to dress up, maybe add an appropriate song to the repertoire – I remember the band Zuba opening a Halloween gig at the Double D with a cover of the Zombies song “Spooky Little Girl Like You” – and follow the crowd into the weirdness of the night.Now, it seems, the bands are leading the way. It has become almost de rigueur, at least for Colorado acts, not just to put on a costume but to really delve into a musical alter-ego for Halloween. It seems to have started with the Motet, which worked up special tribute shows, slipping into the skin of Prince, Stevie Wonder, Herbie Hancock and, last year, the Grateful Dead for the holiday. The concept was so attractive, and the effort to learn the music so big, that the band didn’t limit itself to one night; the Motet built a Halloween tour around its theme shows, taking the gigs around Colorado’s ski towns in the run-up to Halloween before landing in Boulder, the band’s home base, for the big night.The idea has caught fire. This year, late October at Belly Up finds a load of Colorado bands putting on masks and pretending to be what they are not. The run began last week when MTHDS did a show of the music of the Beastie Boys. On Oct. 25, Eufrquestra pays tribute to Beck; the following night, Kinetix puts on its Red Hot Chili Peppers face. And on Oct. 27, the Motet transforms itself into the pioneers of funk, Parliament-Funkadelic.(Also on the Halloween theme at Belly Up: Oct. 27 brings “The Rocky Horror Music Show,” with a screening of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” followed by a Local Artists Showcase. Admission is free for those in costume or $5 for those without. On Halloween night, the club carries on its tradition by presenting Danger Kitty, a group that plays ’80s hair-band music no matter what time of year.)
This tradition started, as a lot of things have, with a few Beatles songs. “But I don’t know if that counts,” Dave Watts, the drummer and bandleader of the Motet, said from his studio in Lyons. “We only did one set, and we didn’t know we were making a tradition of it.”A few Beatles numbers hardly compares to what the Motet has planned for this year’s run of six Halloween shows. In taking on Parliament-Funkadelic, Watts and company are going huge: a 14-piece band that features four horn players and four lead vocalists, a 27-song repertoire and the hiring of a costume designer. Watts says P-Funk, the band of crazies led by George Clinton that took funk to a near-operatic level, demands such a scale.”If you’re going to do a rock show, the most iconic is Led Zeppelin. If you’re going to do funk, it’s P-Funk,” Watts said. “It’s kind of the most obvious and the most daunting at the same time. P-Funk is such an icon, you’ve got to do it right.”After dipping its toes in with the Beatles, the Motet dove in the following year by paying tribute to jazz keyboardist Herbie Hancock. Since then, something of a pattern has been set: Pick an artist to cover in late winter, and spend a few months listening to the source material, including live recordings and video, and then another few months creating arrangements that work for the Motet’s brand of groove.Watts gave a nod to Phish, which in the ’90s began celebrating Halloween by playing a classic album in its entirety: Talking Heads’ “Remain in Light,” the Beatles’ “White Album” and Little Feat’s “Waiting for Columbus.” But Watts said the full-album concept didn’t appeal to him.”I didn’t think it did either band justice because an album has its hits and misses,” he said. “We decided to dig into a whole career and see what an artist had to offer.”Watts’ favorite tribute to date was Earth, Wind & Fire in 2010. The most difficult was Tower of Power, which was the jazziest group the Motet has taken on. Last year, it took on the Grateful Dead, a real reach for Watts, who had never been a Deadhead. But stretching the band’s boundaries is a big reason to continue doing the Halloween shows.”It pushes our musical abilities as players,” said Watts, who will play six P-Funk shows, all in Colorado, ending on Halloween night at the Boulder Theater. “We’ve become a much better band because of these shows. And after 12 years of doing this, that’s a lot of material to learn.”There was another more basic reason to do the shows. “It’s Halloween,” Watts said. “We wanted to do a special show and put on a musical costume. It seemed to make sense.”
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Just as the Motet took its inspiration from Phish and then pushed the concept further, Eufrquestra became a fan of the Motet’s Halloween gigs and then gave it a twist of its own. Eufrquestra has covered an entire album, Talking Heads’ “Stop Making Sense,” done the music from “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory” and last year played the Zombie Apocalypse Dance Party at PAC3 in Carbondale.This year, Eufrquestra tackles Beck. At this summer’s Camp Euforia, the festival the band throws in its original home state of Iowa, Eufrquestra played a handful of Beck songs. Now, it’s a two-hour, all-Beck show that the band will take to three cities.”We consider him one of the greatest musical minds for alternative pop material – that’s the appeal,” Austin Zalatel, a Eufrquestra founder and saxophonist, said from his home in Denver. “We’ve grown up with him, from the grungy, early ’90s stuff to what he’s doing today.”The band plans to include all of Beck’s albums, which makes for a wide range of sounds: the funk of “Midnight Vultures,” the somber tones of “Sea Change,” the electronica- and hip-hop-influenced “The Information.””That demonstrates his ability as an artist,” Zalatel said. “He can produce the most rocking material but also be sensitive and full of feeling. He’s so across the board. And his production work is amazing.”No one in Eufrquestra is designated to impersonate Beck for the evening. “There won’t be any shaggy blond wigs,” Zalatel said. But the five members of the current Eufrquestra lineup have all studied Beck’s fashion styles through the years to come up with an authentic look for the shows.Eufrquestra has made Beck’s “Nicotine & Gravy” part of its regular rotation. After the Halloween run, the band might add some more Beck tunes to its repertoire.”It’s as much a mental exercise as a musical one,” Zalatel said. “As musicians, it can get narcissistic thinking about our own music. It’s easy to get wrapped up in your own brain. To get into someone else’s music and try to replicate it or arrange it in an interesting way, it keeps you on your toes.”Adding to the brain workout, Eufrquestra might attempt to play Beck’s latest project, “Song Reader,” which is not recorded music but exists only as sheet music, subject to interpretation.”That’s the way music used to be,” Zalatel said. “If you couldn’t hear it live, you got the sheet music.”
This spring, MTHDS had a gig at the club Cervantes, where it was going to pay tribute to the Beastie Boys and to Beastie Boy Adam “MCA” Yauch, who died in early May. The band asked Kinetix, another band on the Denver rock scene, to open the show by playing a set of Red Hot Chili Peppers music.”We found we act like the Chili Peppers, jumping up and down a lot,” said Adam Lufkin, the singer-guitarist for Kinetix.It was no surprise that the four-piece Kinetix could sound like the Chili Peppers; the Peppers were one of the biggest influences for Kinetix. “When we take other people’s songs, then put our spin on it, it usually sounds like the Chili Peppers anyway,” Lufkin said. “They’re probably our No. 1 influence, them and Rage Against the Machine. I scream a little more than (Chili Peppers lead singer) Anthony Kiedis.”Kinetix had been in the habit of doing shows of original music for Halloween, only because the Motet had already covered the bands it wanted to appear as – Jamiroquai, Michael Jackson. Instead, Kinetix threw things like “Ghostbusters” into its Halloween sets. Now that it has the Chili Peppers in its playlist, it’s looking at Halloweens down the road.”We’ve thought about doing Pearl Jam,” Lufkin said. “We just haven’t gotten around to it.”
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