High Pulp, The Cumbieros & General Mojo’s 10.31.18


Nectar Lounge
Seattle, WA

Words by Maximo Menchaca
Photos by Papo Vazquez


I have a confession to make: I hate Halloween. And it’s the one holiday I can’t escape by staying home. Going out isn’t much better – the constant question of “Where’s your costume?” would haunt me all night. The best I can do is to head to a show. Not only is it loud enough to evade any questions, but it is a music-lover’s holiday. Everyone is eager to explore: the musicians are a little looser, and so is the audience (but that might have something to with their bar tabs). Yes, even with the extra layer of extravagant costumes, there’s a closer connection and an extra electricity at a Halloween show. The Doom Funk line-up at the Nectar Lounge was no exception for 2018’s edition of All Hallow’s Eve. Three exciting local bands (General Mojo’s, Los Cumbieros, and High Pulp) provided and fed that spark in the air.

After that General Mojo’s set, WOW – I am a convert. Their poppy psychedelia is captivating. The high-energy driving opening song, powered by drummer Sam Veatch and singer Heather Thomas (who also drums for local group Bad News Botanists), featured a keys solo by Eric Vanderbilt-Mathews. The second song featured bassist Dune Butler, the driving core of the band. The timbre of his voice has a conversational earnestness that paired beautifully with Thomas.

While the early crowd stuck mostly to the fringes of the floor during the early part of the set, I was not surprised to see everyone rush up to the stage when asked. Every musician is engaged and having fun on stage - every member contributes to the song writing and singing of this labor of love. Their nods to Halloween (besides the costumes) were tasteful: a tease of “Werewolves of London” and a cover of ELP’s “Karn Evil 9”. That is not an easy band to cover, but Mojo’s pulled it off with aplomb. The group is about to embark on a “Psychedelic Circus” tour down the West Coast. Alert your friends in Oregon and California!

In contrast, The Cumbieros are more of a known entity to me: a refreshing Latin flavor to an awfully white city. The band’s rotating cast of members makes it difficult to pin down who was on stage tonight, but the two female vocalists dolled up in calavera make-up reminded me of my childhood celebrating Dia de los Muertos with my family in Chicago. (And for me, the Mexican-American Halloween hater, that’s the holiday we SHOULD be celebrating.)

Cultural melding doesn’t have to be so damn dance-able, but I’m not complaining. The cumbia is Columbian, and while many of the dectet’s members are not of Hispanic descent, they are cumbieros to the core – sultry, warm brass, snake-charming percussion, and hip-shaking bass lines. One audience member was swaying and grooving hypnotically, even while squeezed into a clearly uncomfortable tight-fitting onesie.

The groups’s covers were amazing. I’m not sure how much traction Mon Laferta’s “Amárrame” had up here in Seattle, but the song was HUGE last summer throughout Latin America. And nothing beats hearing the Mexican Madonna Selena’s “Coma La Flor”.

The floor quaked beneath a brigade of stamping feet. Behind the soundboard at the Nectar is a clock that also displays the temperature. After The Cumbieros’ set, it read 80 degrees. Do you like to dance? That’s all you need to know.

The PA piped the “Halloween” theme, “Frankenstein”, and “Thriller”, and the crowd stayed rowdy during the set break, primed for more. Fittingly, High Pulp’s keys duo announced their grand entrance – a Moog-heavy murk. The rest of the group stepped on stage, and with the crash of cymbals plowed into “Juiced”.

One of my favorite feelings during a show is falling right into a song, have it wrap into my ear drums, and then drift right along. My mind will awaken, take a step back, and wonder for a second, “How did the group even get here?” My ears will have to remind my brain that it doesn’t matter about the destination – the journey kicked ass. The space-y breakdown and guitar solo of “Juiced” put me there and left me thinking, “Whoa, where the hell did that come from?! Give me more!” I and the rest of the audience would have been on the edge of our seats here, if there was any ass left in one.

The group has an amusing ethos around them – the artwork of their debut album (released just months ago) is the epitome of kitsch. Tonight was as well, with the dectet coordinated as fruit (except for trumpeter Alex Dugdale, who curiously dressed up as a gorilla). Grapes, kiwi, banana, watermelon, berries… I was giggling watching the green tuft on drummer Rob Granfelt’s pineapple costume hop drunkenly as he took a drum solo during the song “Nikola”. The kitsch continued with the song “Moon Milk”, about “a psychedelic drug found only on the moon”. It’s been recorded for the already-planned new album – be on the lookout!

The group invited guests on stage to help propel the set. The first feature, Shaina Shepherd, should be a global superstar – her voice and personality were too large for the mere Nectar. Decked out as Erykah Badu, she sang Badu’s “Tyrone”.

OK, not bad. But then: Shaina commented on the heat in the room. AND started a striptease. Beneath the Badu lay a Chaka Khan cameo. Off came the white skirt and wrap, and out came a flashy red dress and frizzy mop of hair. After covers of Aretha Franklin’s “Rock Steady” and Khan’s “Ain’t Nobody”, Shepherd had us at her mercy.

Jaylon Nazario wasn’t going to match Shaina’s big voice, but he didn’t have to: his agile vocals had the crowd moving just as much to the holiday classics. “Thriller,” this time with live instruments - and the floor erupted even harder for the reprise. Then the arm-raising sing-along of the night, “Ghostbusters.” The bounce of Scott Rixon on the bass, broad smile on guitarist Gehrig Uhles, and cocky swagger of keyboardist Antoine Martel made the connection clear – the group was having as much fun playing these songs as we were having getting down to them.

But there was still a surprise in store. The penultimate tune, “Euro Beach Club” was preceded by placing a worn wooden board down on the front of the stage. Huh? Alex Dugdale, gorilla-in-residence, came down during the tune and tap danced!

I think that embodies the joy of seeing Halloween shows in small venues. This is one of the biggest dates on the music calendar. Christmas and Thanksgiving are meant for homebodies, but Halloween, New Year’s Eve, the 4th of July – these are the parties. Every group has to bring something unique to impress familiar fans and convert new ones. Big established bands already have some perfected schtick. Go to one of their shows, and you’re getting a known quantity.

But for the real novel experience, head into a smaller show with an up-and-coming band, like tonight’s show. Every group on the bill is excited, finding their way, and blazing their path. These are the groups who are just “trying shit” at every show. The Halloween show is the culmination, the best chance to see something truly unique. This night in Seattle, there might have been other venues with bands covering “Ghostbusters”. A fun song – don’t get me wrong. But an Erykah Badu strip tease, a cover of Latina mega stars, earnest psychedelic-pop, and tap dancing? There was only one place in the city you could see that. That essence of the live experience, to feel the truly unique, the once-in-a-lifetime coursing through your veins and banging in your ear drums as you head home. That’s the joy of a Halloween show. Even a Halloween hater has got to love that.

Papo's Photo Gallery

www.highpulpmusic.com

www.generalmojos.com

High Pulp Setlist: Stranger Things Intro > Juiced, Hookai > Fishbowl, Serena Williams > Epilogue, Jason Williams, Nikola > FBROT, Moon Milk, Ezell’s, Tyrone[1] > Rock Steady [1], Ain’t Nobody [1], Thriller [2], Ghostbusters [2] > Sermon, Euro Beach Club [3], Smooth

Notes:

[1] with Shaina Shepherd on vocals
[2] with Jaylon Nazario on vocals
[3] with Alex Dugdale tap-dancing

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