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Live Music: The Motet in San Francisco

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Just before Christmas, the Motet lit up a little pocket of San Francisco, bringing a much-needed boost of merriment to a holiday season that felt to me more sad and stressful than festive, stamping on the waning days of a stale and stifling year their infectious thirst for celebration. With a cold rain falling outside, an eclectic group of show-goers young and old ditched their umbrellas to sweat it out and dance around to the Motet’s electric jazzy funk. An ensemble group of nearly a dozen members (the exact number seemingly dependent on the set or the night) I became first acclimated with their music during last summer’s High Sierra Music Festival. And though they have their own sophisticated repertoire of songs, they are perhaps better known for the bombastic live homages they pay to some of their influences—the Talking Heads, Herbie Hancock, Sly and the Family Stone, Earth Wind and Fire, and the Grateful Dead. “The Funk Is Dead” is the Motet’s tribute to the Bay Area’s progenitors of psychedelic improvisation; they sample from the Dead’s cherished catalog of folk, country, jazz, blues, and rock and resurrect the songs with a reverent fervor that’s all their own.

It was that set of Dead covers that lured me out to see the Motet again on a night when I least felt like leaving the cozy isolation of my apartment but obviously could have benefited from the distraction more than ever. And upon getting the the venue, with a beer in hand and pushing up to the front by the stage, I remembered that I wasn’t there looking for a mere “distraction”; this is live music that really delivers! The Funk Is Dead is one of the most inspired testaments I’ve seen to a band that’s been covered thousands of times before.

The Motet played a set of their own music first, some of it presumably from their newest album 2009’s Dig Deep, which translated to a raucous bunch of danceable booty shakers that set the tone for the night’s sweaty dance party. And though vocalist Kim Dawson waited in the wings through the first set, only to join on the mic for the final song, her presence was noted by the people in the audience who were already familiar with the vocal power she’s capable of unleashing.

The Motet classes it up for the Dead. Clad in sleek black clothes, with red roses affixed to their mics and glowing skull accents adorning the stage, the multi-part harmonies and upbeat renditions of American classics make for a memorable experience of visual and audible delights. Cast in the vibrant lights of the venue and playing to the crowd’s buoyant energy, the Motet fed my seasonal slump and enabled me to look past it, past the loss and apathy and chill that had descended onto many people I love during the month of December, and look to the horizon of 2013, which was not so far away. Call me melodramatic (well, I am) but that show gave me the momentum I needed to revel in the holidays instead of bitching about everything and feeling depressed.

A little bit of music goes a long way.

Check out a photo gallery of the Motet at the Independent
All photos by Shaun Beall

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