The End of the Groove
It's not that the members of Furious George and the Monster Groove are lazy. Anyone who's seen a club gig by the combo (lead singer James Elias, bassist Luke Davis, drummer Scott Bruggeman, guitarist Jimmy Boardman, trombonists Abraham Martinez and Brian Mohr, trumpeter Tony Marino and saxophonist Brian Schilling) knows that the players' one constant is energy. And it's not that they're disorganized, either: Over the past year or two, they've frequently played three or four packed gigs a week while at the same time working day jobs and maintaining a rehearsal schedule and their personal lives. Yet something intangible has always prevented what some local musicians refer to as the hardest-working band in Denver from becoming a household name. And now it looks as if the Groove is calling it quits. According to Elias, the band will likely have played its last show by early next year.
What's behind this decision? On the surface, the main factor is Davis's plan to study bass-playing in New York City. With him out of the picture, his bandmates believe that the chemistry that is so crucial to the act's appeal will be destroyed. As Elias, who makes his living as a hair stylist, puts it, "I don't want to play with a different bassist."
"And I don't want to play with another guitarist," Bruggeman testifies in regard to Boardman, who's also made it clear he's ready to move on.
There's a certain sadness in these admissions, of course, but in other ways, the Groovers feel that their act may have run its course. When the octet was formed in a local basement four years ago, its inductees had no way of knowing what was ahead of them. Since then, they've toured throughout the West and ventured as far north as Vancouver. They've become a steady draw at venues in LoDo and on Capitol Hill. They've been asked to open for numerous national acts and once got the opportunity to party with the Stone Temple Pilots. And they've earned the undying affection of scores upon scores of Denver nightlifers. "We started out playing keggers," Davis remarks. "Now people are buying us drinks and throwing us cartons of cigarettes. We never expected it to go this far."
But in the same breath, Davis acknowledges, "Maybe we expected it to go farther."
Regrets like this one seem natural, and there's no doubt that these performers have a few. But their disappointments have not in any way diluted their passion for their music and the music made by their Colorado peers. "Furious George would never have gone anywhere without the scene," Elias points out. "I love the local guys. We're always right behind them on the tours, you know." He laughs. "When we were in Salt Lake, the Psychodelic Zombiez had just been there--and left a nasty message for us on the wall."
Adds Davis: "There are a lot of good bands in Denver that aren't getting noticed."
One of the reasons these Monsters seemed to fall through the cracks at times might be their disinterest in playing the music-business game: When asked if his group has a promo kit, Elias responds, "Nah." But clubgoers certainly responded to its approach, despite the fact that even Elias has trouble describing it. When forced to offer a definition, he calls the Monster Groove sound "soul...kind of ska... kind of a pop-blues thing.
"Our style is diverse," he continues, somewhat more coherently. "We have eight people, ages 21 to 36. There are a lot of different influences." But just as important to him is the vibe that links the instrumentalists both on the stage and off. In Elias's view, the mix works because the core constituents "aren't too serious. They're fun, but still hard."
Fun: That's the key. "Furious" may be part of the outfit's name, but that doesn't mean the word applies to its songs. "We don't sing about dead children or the government," Davis notes. "We do what we love. It's pretty simple, really."
Maybe so--but at a recent appearance before a sold-out throng at Herman's Hideaway, the Groove proved to be anything but elementary. Complex improvs offered up by the horn players, whose instruments seemed to be brass extensions of their bodies, kept the audience moving. Meanwhile, Boardman's Sabbath-animated guitar riffs provided the melodies over which the perfectly coiffed Elias crooned, chanted and expounded.
At first the band's formula--Steely Dan-like choruses, swing-era accompaniment, trombone-induced suspense, a hip-hop drum foundation--seemed too odd to work. But somehow it did, in part because the players never played at the crowd. Rather, the crowd is invited to join them on a voyage to which they provided the soundtrack. A typical cross-section of fans, ranging from a middle-aged woman in a Healthtex one-piece to a knee-pierced couple into moshing, eagerly came along for the ride.
Unfortunately, Furious George never quite captured the magic of its performances in the studio. Its sole CD, 4:20 at My Place, is likely to disappoint the band's boosters. Elias concedes he was "scared" during the sessions, and it shows. In a live setting, Elias works most effectively in the higher registers--but on the disc, he sings in a lower pitch that finds him straining to hit notes crammed between too-short breaths. As a result, those handfuls of moments when his natural voice can be heard provide 4:20's highlights. The "I can't choose, baby" soul verse that sparks "Here's Pain," the "smoke is rising high" line that pops up in "High Rise," and the entirety of "Gridlock," in which Elias pushes out lyrics from his lungs (not his throat) all hint at what the group might have been able to do during future trips to the studio.
Of course, another recording is on hold now--probably for good. But that doesn't mean that these entertainers are going to vanish from the Denver music community they love so much. Elias and Boardman are both eager to get involved with new projects, and the other musicians are far too talented to remain idle for long. As for a reunion, that's a possibility, too--so long as there's a good reason. For example, the Groove was recently challenged to a softball game by the members of the Zombiez and Lord of Word and the Disciples of Bass. And Elias and company promise they'll be ready to take the field when softball season rolls around--whether their band exists or not.
Furious George and the Monster Groove, with Carolyn's Mother and Zeut. 9 p.m. Saturday, December 21, Ogden Theatre, 935 East Colfax, $6, 830-2525 or 1-800-444-
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