Return of The Motet
Colorado’s favorite funk band headlines JAS June Experience and reopens Belly Up Aspen on Friday night
Who: The Motet
Where: Jazz Aspen June Experience at Belly Up Aspen
When: Friday, June 25, 7:15 & 9:45 p.m.
How much: $65
The Motet has provided the up-tempo funk soundtrack for dance parties in Colorado for two decades and played hundreds of annual shows here and on the road. After a long and jarring break from live performance during the pandemic, the band played a grand homecoming concert at Red Rocks Amphitheater in early June — headlining one of the first big concerts at the iconic Colorado venue and kicking off the post-vaccine summer here with about 6,200 fans in the stands.
“It was incredible,” Motet founder and drummer Dave Watts said, his voice still hoarse from an after-show party that extended for three days. “It was way more back to normal than we expected. … Just to be in front of that many people and a hometown crowd — it felt like everybody in the entire crowd knew each other.”
Showcasing new quarantine-written songs and featuring several guest singers, the big comeback show featured a medley Watts of six Motet crowd favorites like “Nemesis” and “Highly Compatible.” Playing it, he said, was an all-time great stage moment in the long life of The Motet.
“That was so much fun, just being able to bust through all that material and give everybody a taste of our more popular music,” Watts recalled.
The band continues its celebratory return to Colorado stages this weekend at the Jazz Aspen Snowmass June Experience with two shows Friday night at Belly Up (and two more for a private patron crowd Saturday evening on the rooftop of the Aspen Art Museum).
The band played socially distanced shows this spring at the Vilar Performing Arts Center in Beaver Creek and a few at Cervantes in Denver, but for the most part they remained homebound through the pandemic.
“It was very strange,” Watts said, “to go from playing hundreds of shows a year from being on the road and flying everywhere, and being in airports and hotels or most of our lives for the last few years. And then all of a sudden, she’s like, back to being at home, you know, and it will surreal.”
The band experimented with remote recording during the spring 2020 lockdown, all of them writing and staying creative. But they didn’t see one another in person for more than a month. The break was a generative time for Watts and his mates.
“Honestly, it felt great to be able to stay at home and get creative and practice a lot and work craft,” Watts said.
The pandemic also changed the trajectory of the band and its personnel. Singer Lyle Divinsky as well as trumpet player Parris Fleming left the Motet in October to pursue other projects. Divinsky had been the frontman for more than four years.
After the change, Watts, keys player Joey Porter, bassist Garrett Sayers, guitarist Ryan Jalbert and keyboardist Drew Sayers got back to work and focused on instrumental recordings, returning to some jazz- and funk-based compositions that are sure to grow and mutate in The Motet’s improvisation-fueled live sets.
For live performances this summer, they’ve been bringing in guest vocalists — Antwaun Stanley of Vulfpeck and Nigel Hall from Lettuce and Jennifer Hartswick of the Trey Anastasio Band among them — and also staging some all-instrumental shows.
“It’s like when one door closes, another door opens, you know,” Watts said. “We lost two of our members. Instead of just trying to imitate ourselves and sound, we chose to move forward and try different ideas.”
That sonic evolution has been constant for The Motet since Watts formed the group in Denver in 1998. With an evolving cast and a genre-spanning curiosity, they’ve taken in influences from roots reggae to jazz, hip-hop, blues, soul and psych rock.
In November, they started meeting up for practices and working on songs for a new album expected for release later this year.
“We got a lot of material out, and we were able to write a bunch of new tunes,” Watts said. “We realized we were still being very creative.”
In February, they went into the studio and recorded most of that material for a forthcoming record — all instrumentals. They’ve already released the singles “False Prophets,” “And the Beat Goes On” and “Can’t Fool Me” with the new lineup.
“The creative juices are feeling stronger than ever,” Watts said. “We’re excited about it.”
While it had its creative benefits, the pandemic financially devastated the live music industry as it shut down most events for some 15 months. Bands like The Motet, who make a living on live performance, were among the hardest hit. Watts and his mates got by on unemployment insurance and — because they operate as a limited liability corporation — they also successfully got a Paycheck Protection Program loan.
“It worked out because that bought us time to be able to continue being musicians and not have to try to find a day job, which I know is what happened to a lot of people in the music scene,” Watts explained. “We feel lucky.”
Friday’s show will be the first at Belly Up since early March 2020. Watts is honored to reopen the renowned and beloved Aspen venue and to see all of their local fans up close again.
“The energy is always through the roof,” Watts said of playing Aspen. “There’s this super bright, happy energy that comes from the crowd, so we always love playing in the mountains, especially in the summertime.”
Back in 2013, while working on a proposed box set of archival recordings, singer-songwriter Melissa Etheridge came across a group of songs that had been recorded in the late 1980s but never released.
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