When they're not making beautiful noise together, the members of Denver's Moot are agitating for social change. And luckily, the musicians agree on what changes should be made.
"I've tried to play with conservatives before, and I don't think you can be of that mindset and be creative at the same time," claims guitarist/vocalist frontman Tom Mestnik, who describes his belief system as "good, progressive, lefty" politics. "Playing in a band with someone is such an intimate relationship that sooner or later, the shit's going to hit the fan."
Guitarist/vocalist Whitney Rehr, who spends her days working for the Colorado AIDS Project, wholeheartedly agrees. "I couldn't play with these guys if I couldn't be a totally open dyke and be able to joke about it--be all about that, play lesbian clubs..."
Considering that the thought and emotion they devote to activism is the same that fuels their music, it's appropriate that the players were brought together by volunteer work. Moot bassist Bob Gumbrecht first met Rehr at Urban Peak, a Capitol Hill shelter. Later, Shades of Persuasion, a psychedelic combo that featured both Gumbrecht and Mestnik, appeared with Rehr at a local benefit for homeless youth.
Following in the footsteps of Bits of Wood, a local combo Mestnik once fronted, the instrumentalists appeared separately at a number of subsequent rallies--including benefits to roll back Amendment 2 and free Leonard Peltier--before forming Moot with former Thumposaurus Rex drummer Evan Anderson. Though not as involved in political work as his comrades, Anderson, a spelunking fanatic, is dedicated to the group. In order to appear at an AIDS Walk gig last September, for instance, he hired a friend with a private plane to fly him from South Dakota's Wind Cave National Park to Denver. "He straggled onto stage, haggard and stinky, two minutes before our first set," Rehr recalls.
This kind of devotion demonstrates that the religious right does not hold the sole claim to family values. Truth be told, this motley band of liberals represents a far more functional clan than any Newt Gingrich has been a part of.
"We're all big fans of each other," Mestnik enthuses. "I love Bob's and Evan's playing. They're the envy of the Denver scene as a rhythm section. Everyone just raves about them." In reference to one of the act's three current recording projects, he adds, "I really heard Bob's bass line for the first time today in the studio. And I thought, 'Wow, that's a kick-ass bass line.'"
Confirms Gumbrecht, "You're so intent on your own part, usually perfecting it all the time, that in the studio you finally get to hear what everybody else is doing."
The players are especially supportive of experimentation. Hence, Moot's live shows expand like sea monkeys in an aquarium--at the occasionally odd angle. A recent benefit to elect state legislator Diana DeGette provides an apt example: During it, Rehr swapped her guitar for a didgeridoo and Mestnik offered up an impromptu magic act, engaging the prospective congresswoman as his volunteer. "I was the magician at Casa Bonita for a while," Mestnik concedes amid groans from his mates. "But I never ate the food there."
Moot's style fits within the behemoth genre dubbed alternative rock, but it doesn't get lost in the beast's belly, thanks to the facility and range of the musicians, the diversity of their influence and the fact that they've got something to say. Rehr and Mestnik's harmonies, while sometimes waxing folkie, never approach coffeehouse mundaneness; Rehr's voice (which sounds plaintive one moment, relentless the next) prevents such a descent. Moreover, the psychedelic hills and valleys of the outfit's originals intoxicate without numbing the listener. When the four rock--and because Mestnik is "madly and passionately in love with feedback and distortion," they often do--it's never at the expense of intricacy or focus.
"We're playing for intelligent people who can pick out the subtleties in our music," Mestnik says. "Folks who come up to us after the show really notice how much we put into an arrangement--the time changes, the dynamic changes."
"We want to make every song the ultimate song," Gumbrecht elaborates. "We work the hell out of every song lyrically and musically."
"I could not imagine singing about nothing," Rehr asserts. "The common listener is not dumb. It's an insult to society, but society is kept dumb."
Rather than exploit their audience, the artists steer clear of posturing--a trump card many bands play in lieu of talent or substance. "Our music is going to make our image," Gumbrecht points out. "That's what's going to carry this band--not what we look like so much as the whole shebang."
That's fortunate, according to Rehr. "I've been a music geek and a theater geek, and there's nothing cool about that at all. Having a guitar in my hand is as close to cool as I've come," she jokes.
Trendiness certainly isn't foremost in Mestnik's mind; he's interested in more cerebral matters. "Playing live is a way to hyperconsciousness," he suggests. "You can learn a lot about yourself and the human condition from on stage." Likewise, listeners can learn a lot from these performers. But the quartet doesn't pummel you with ideology. Instead, what Moot delivers is a sublime by-product of fervor and intelligence: spellbinding rock and roll.
Moot. 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday, May 3 and 4, Paris on the Platte, 1553 Platte, free, 455-2451.
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