Photos by Claredon Grey Sharp
Motopony’s May 24 show at the Crocodile was nothing if not fashionably confusing.
The first opener, Sebastian and The Deep Blue, a seven-piece pop-brass-folk ensemble, was solid musically, but a puzzle for the eyes. The lead singer was dressed for the occasion, wearing khaki pants and a flower-print shirt; the guitarist was more throwback-hip, sporting a fedora and cuffed pants; but the rest gets weird. The back-up vocalist, saxophonist, and violinist looked more like they were dressed for a high-school talent show than a show at a Seattle club. The bassist had on a trucker hat and cowboy boots. The drummer was wearing a t-shirt and jeans, but was relatively hidden by his curly long, brown hair and beard.
They all looked fine individually, but, as a group, it just didn’t work.
Ezra Bell, the middle — and best — act, a Portland-based folk-soul sextet, looked and sounded the part. This group of humans vibed so well together it’s honestly difficult to describe; each musician held their own, fed off of the other band members, and performed their ass off.
The frontman, Benjamin Wuamett, was so into his craft that he often looked like he was seizing onstage, a la Joe Cocker, and it was amazing. He also sweated more in that 30-minute set than I probably do in an entire week. Bro was into it, and it showed. The keyboardist doubled as a tenor guitarist at times, and the designated bass player so discreetly switched from double bass to electric that I didn’t even notice the multiple changes he made. One of the most professional groups I’ve potentially ever seen, this is a band to watch.
By the time Motopony took the stage, the crowd was hyped.
By the time Motopony left the stage, the crowd was almost nonexistent.
Frontman Daniel Blue entered the stage dressed in black platform combat boots, black leather pants, a black button-up, a gray suit vest, and a black shrug-like mini-jacket…and a masquerade-esque crow mask. His hair was done up in moderately elaborate braids. The energy in the room quickly shifted from excitement to intrigue as the other band members entered the stage wearing matching-but-not-exactly-the-same masks of their own.
The first few songs were dark numbers with no introductions, and I could feel like unease in the audience. It lightened up a little bit after a couple songs, but the vibe of the entire show was dark and eerie: the dancers were often low to the ground and the choreography was almost threatening; the band members seemed to lift up and put their masks back on without any sort of rhyme or reason, so instead of being a cool addition, the masks ended up being confusing and unexplained; and the band members themselves seemed to be stuck in a dark funk, unable to release and have a good time.
Honestly, watching this show post Daniel Blue interview made me feel like Blue is the ring leader of an abusive relationship. When you meet and speak to Blue, he’s charming and you get sucked in, but when you step back and take a look at this person you’re involved with a year or two later, you don’t know how to you got here or why you’re so unhappy.
It was obvious Blue (over)thought every. single. aspect. of this show, from what he was wearing to how he would interact with the other performers (almost not at all), and that seems to be his fatal flaw. The whole show seemed premeditated to the point of roboticism. The music was tight, the dancers were captivating, and the lights were well-done, but I felt nothing from this performance. Especially after the manic movements from Ezra Bell, the stoicism of Motopony couldn’t connect.
Basically, this show just didn’t seem genuine. At one point Blue took off his vest and threw it at the audience; the guy who caught it looked bewildered and then calmly put the vest back on the stage. Towards the end of the show, the band did a really high energy number, and Blue was rocking out. I looked around at that point, and the audience had dwindled to about half the size it had been during Ezra Bell, and only five people had any sort of positive emotion on their face (I smelled weed, though, so there’s no telling if those people were even into the music or just high).
The best part of their set, honestly, was the last song when they brought three audience members onstage. The audience members started dancing, emulating the low style of the dancers, and it was great because, finally, someone actually seemed like they were just having a plain ol’ good time. If the most entertaining performers of your show are untrained citizens, that’s a problem.
The only musician I did get any sort of feeling from was guitarist and back-up vocalist Timothy Robert Graham, who is a star in his own right.
It seemed like Blue was trying to be David Bowie at this show/with this project — he adapted a music more flamboyant stage presence than his rel-life demeanor — and it could have worked. The music is great. The dancers were alluring. The masks were captivating. It didn’t work because it was ingenuine. With every piece, I could tell how much worry and fret there was over it, and it was impossible to relax. I get the feeling Blue slaved over that outfit for months, whereas I’m sure Bowie was just like “what a sweet-ass leotard. I’m gonna fucking wear it!”
Moral of the story: be yourself…and don’t be afraid of who that is. People want to connect, but we can’t connect to your anxieties.