Socially Distanced Jazz Funk and a Four-Course Meal? Yes, Please.

Members of Big Gigantic, the Motet and Lettuce perform at Corrida on Thursday as part of Dine From Out There.
Members of Big Gigantic, the Motet and Lettuce perform at Corrida on Thursday as part of Dine From Out There. SilkyShots2020
I stood in a rather warm foyer of a building in Boulder on Thursday night waiting on an elevator ride to the fourth floor to dine at Corrida and listen to live music. About a dozen well-dressed couples stood socially distanced nearby, and the sound of their conversation reverberated off the walls.

Two lively, slightly toasted chaps who had attended the first show burst from the elevator. On their way out the door, one of them yelled out, “You guys enjoy!”

“What a fucking night,” his comrade chimed in ebulliently. “Let’s go!”

That seemed like a good sign. It is 2020, after all, a year that beat up its grandmother over the last Twinkie and didn’t feel bad about it in the morning. I required sustenance and live entertainment. If the 5:30 p.m. show evoked that kind of emotional response, what sorts of hidden pleasures lay in store for the 8:15 p.m show?

The event, called Dine From Out There, pairs food and live music, and was put on by 11E1even Group, which has been hosting virtual concerts under the Live From Out There moniker.

I was eventually taken up the elevator with two men in sport coats. I felt underdressed for a moment until I noticed they also wore shorts and flip-flops. Soon I was in an open-air restaurant on the fourth floor. For a moment I thought I'd go to the edge of the patio and gaze with mighty fury upon the human termites down below. Then I remembered the median income in Boulder and thanked my lucky stars they'd allowed me in and comped my ticket.

I grabbed a table by the stage, and after I waved off several cocktails (I wasted my drinking on my twenties), the staff at Corrida was kind enough to ply me with specially made "mocktails" for each course. I was mock-shitfaced by the end the evening.

The four-course meal started off with a tomato and watermelon gazpacho that, in spite of sounding straight out of a menu in American Psycho, was light and just a little bit sweet. It was tasty, and I would have tipped the bowl over my head had that not been frowned upon in such a fine establishment. My only prior experience with octopus has been at all-you-can-eat buffets. It’s rubbery, and you barely remember having eaten it when you wake up from the food poisoning coma six weeks later. The chef at Corrida does octopus well, and Thursday might have marked the day I had the best calamari of my young, hot life. The main course, wagyu beef, was tender, juicy and perfectly cooked. Some of the sauce ended up on my notebook as I furiously scribbled notes. I’m probably going to eat it later; I can’t lie. The Basque-style cheesecake was likewise worth writing histrionic love poetry about.

click to enlarge Roasted octopus and calamari from Corrida in Boulder. - JOHN BEAR
Roasted octopus and calamari from Corrida in Boulder.
John Bear

In short, I’m going to be eating at Corrida for breakfast lunch and dinner, every day of the week henceforth until the day I die. Save me a table.

As for the music:

The world is full of bad jazz combos that, before COVID19 locked up most live music in its proverbial basement, played at fancy restaurants for indifferent diners. The five guys who played instrumental jazz-funk classics on Thursday night were not one of those combos. The musicians — Dominic Lalli and Jeremy Salken of Big Gigantic, Joey Porter and Garrett Sayers of the Motet, and Eric “Benny” Bloom from funk outfit Lettuce — were all virtuosic with their chosen instruments.

The group jammed for about an hour and ten minutes — six songs in jazz time — and it felt like a real show, not incidental music for people to ignore while they drank the wine paired with each course. They started off with two Herbie Hancock classics, and while jazz-funk music might not be for everyone, anyone who says he or she doesn’t like Herbie Hancock:

A: Is lying.
B: Has not heard Herbie Hancock.
C: Is Herbie Hancock and he's just screwing with you.

I looked back toward the fifty-ish people in attendance, and while a couple or two might have been chatting and not really paying attention, most people seemed to be in the groove. Heads nodded. Feet tapped. One couple played air drums. Occasionally, horn player Bloom demanded that the audience cheer his friends. I’d never seen a jazz-funk outfit with a hype man before. It was beautiful.

They stuck to music they said had inspired them over the years — Hancock, Freddie Hubbard, Joshua Redman and Gil Scott-Heron — and saxophonist Lalli thanked the crowd several times for the opportunity to play live.

“How long has it been since you’ve heard live music?” he asked no one in particular.

Someone in the back yelled out a show he'd attended.

“That was in January!”

As much as I enjoyed the chance to hear live music again, seeing the joy on the players' faces was a high point of the evening. Salken bore a beatific smile toward the end of the set. Even if was just a fleeting moment, I saw it. I’m a writer by trade and used to refusing to emerge from this Arvada underground bunker (garden-level apartment), so this pandemic, horrific as it is, hasn’t taken too much from me. I was already hunched over a keyboard. But professional musicians who can’t play live music? That must be like losing a limb or a piece of one's soul. Watching these five guys play a loosely organized set — sometimes they appeared to be discussing what song to play next — was as good as the food. And that was good food.

A ticket to the show cost $225. It’s certainly not cheap, but I suppose a night out on the town in Denver — the drinks, the food, tickets to a show and the inevitable $50 parking ticket — might cost that much in a normal year. But we are not in a normal year. We were all taking a risk going out to eat and listen to a band, but the staff at Corrida and the event organizers were keeping everyone distanced and wearing masks. I felt as safe as I can in this lame Year of our Lord 2020.

It was worth the risk. I’ve seen live music twice since this madness started, and both times, this awful tension I carry around in my upper back lately melted away for a few hours during and afterward. I won't take it for granted anymore.

The next Dine From Out There event is at Acorn, 3350 Brighton Boulevard in Denver, on Thursday, July 23, with music from members of Magic Beans, New Mastersounds and Big Gigantic, followed by an event at a private location on Saturday, July 25, with food from Chef Merlin Vernier and Kitchen Dwellers. For more information on Dine From Out There, go to
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