Monday, April 5, 2010

Big Motif CD Release Party: Hippies, Rockers, and a Whole Lot of Lasers

A few Guinnesses deep, I found myself at Quixote's True Blue on Saturday, March 27th, for Big Motif’s CD/EP release party. I had seen Big Motif last year at People’s Fair and loved their raw blues-jam sound. However, I had heard that, along with a new name (previously known as Runnin’ Wild Band) and a recent lineup change, they were now experimenting with a new genre altogether.

With no awkward hesitation or stuttered introductions, the opening band—A Reliable Source—launched into their set of hard instrumental rock. With the flawless timing, intricate riffs, and funk overtones created by heavy bass lines, they sounded fresh from the stages of 1972. Throughout the set, the band members seemed very connected—paying as much attention to one another as to the audience—which resulted in a very tight, yet complex sound.

After a brief intermission, it was time for Big Motif. The change in lineup turned out to be the addition of a saxophonist/flutist, Sam Crowe. Crowe, a young but well-established jazz musician, has performed with the Grammy Jazz Ensemble, as well as with such fellow musicians as Herbie Hancock and Terence Blanchard. The addition of the woodwinds creates a more mature sound, and when necessary, pushing a song over the edge into psychedelia. Yet that wasn’t the only change. It seems as if the band traded in their long-winded blues jam sessions for a more studied form of jazz fusion. Tony Pacello (guitar and vocals) has slowed down his impressively fast fingers to a restrained and concentrated plucking (although many songs still showcase moments of his sheer talent). Hunter Roberts and Jeff Jani also slow it down a bit, keeping the mellow beat while revealing their sophisticated talents. Toward the end of the set, the band played a few old favorites, such as their rendition of Michael Franti’s “Ganja Babe” and Sublime’s “40 Oz. to Freedom,” showing the audience that, while their sound may be growing up, they can still let loose like the young adults they are.

The closing band, Grateful Dead cover-band Shakedown Street, took the stage amid a laser light show—which seems to be a requirement for any kind of Dead tribute band. And as with any Dead tribute band, the audience was divided between hard-dancing, adoring Deadheads….and bewildered onlookers. Finding myself in conversation with a Dead fan, I asked how he liked Shakedown Street. “Not bad, not bad,” he said, then proceeded to give me a step-by-step guide to appreciating Grateful Dead. Those fans are anything, if not patient. Must be the calming effects of those lasers.

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