The Fabulous Masonaires

Photo by Matt OttoEven though the teensy stage at Detroit Bar was an upgrade from modest gigs at such joints as Din Din at the Bamboo Terrace—where bands play in the dining room!—the Groove Ensemble looked almost comically cramped during their set at the All City Showcase on Jan. 8. Although you shouldn't blame it on Detroit, really: if your band were a Bonnaroo Festival in a box, you'd be a wee smooshed, too. But while the eight-piece funk/soul/disco/Latin group—essentially your basic drum, bass and guitar rock trio, plus a keyboardist, DJ, saxophonist, bongo player and, oh, a didjeridu guy—might be a few lifetimes away from actually playing a jam fest like Bonnaroo, they're more than ready for a permanent move to bigger venues such as Detroit.

Virtually unrecognizable from when we last saw them, it was at least a minute before we realized this was the same Groove Ensemble we once watched goof their way though a beer-soaked art-gallery opening at Subject Matter more than a year ago. Gone were their nervous glances at one another, shaky solos and, most strikingly, their unassuming demeanor. Instead, they possessed the natural grace of a seasoned jam band, sounding far tighter—and, good thing or not, a lot more like Santana—than we remembered. Of course, it didn't help that their “look”—as much as a jam band can ever have—had also changed: the keyboardist now sported sunglasses, the bass player had grown an afro, and the guitarist—formerly a cute, stoner-looking boy—had transformed into a ring-on-every-finger, verging-on-Lenny-Kravitz axe man.


Also in this issue To read Ellen Griley's article on the Hong Kong Six, click here. As the band transitioned from a wah-wah “Shaft” tribute into a soul/downtempo number, it soon become obvious that not only were these all welcome changes, but they'd also been necessary adjustments if Groove Ensemble ever hoped to achieve the same following as, say, Natural Afrodisiac or 00 Soul. What passed for groovy at a gallery opening attended by mainly 18-and-overs would've been ignored at Detroit, and to that end, the band more than made up the difference, playing to a dance floor packed with everyone from just-barely 21-year-olds to some downright funky able-bodied senior citizens.

In the end, though, it seemed that some things never change, and when the drunken hippies began preaching about the Man and his connection to the “Masonaires,” we knew it was time to go. Hopefully, they'll stay home the next time we see the Groove Ensemble—you know, in 2006, when they play their first gig at the House of Blues.

* * *

Seeking, perhaps, to drive Costa Mesa'ssmall enclave of Shins- and Grandaddy-loving hipsters toward insanity, Detroit Bar debuted its new Wednesday-night club, the Take Back, on Jan. 5 to, well, about as large a crowd as any Wednesday-night indie-rock club could hope for. The insane part? Costa Mesa already has a Wednesday-night club for the indie rockers—at the Memphis Group's eponymous digs at the Lab anti-mall. Definitely Maybe, the weekly club at Memphis Soul Caf, has been at the restaurant/bar for more than a year and a half, with DJs AM 180 and TSC-1 bridging the gap each week between the Jam and Oasis and all the other godhead stuff that makes overeducated, iPod-toting, bespectacled young folks smile.

But now, with the Take Back, DJs Trashrocket and Powder stand to court the 16 or so pretty, young burgeoning alcoholics who regularly attended Definitely Maybe each week by offering the best from Interpol, the Walkmen, Echo N the Bunnymen, Blur, My Bloody Valentine, !!!—even Yo La Tengo. The tradeoff? It's Memphis' brilliant, heated smoking patio for Detroit's always-chilly dance floor; pints of Stella for Pyramid Hefeweizen; an after-hours stop at Del Taco for one at Alejandro's. But with Detroit considering the possibility of the Take Back hosting some live indie shows in the future, the decision stands to hinge on what has always been the difference between Memphis and Detroit: Spilled beer on your shoes and metal-backed chairs? Or ear plugs and leather couches? The choice is yours. In the meantime, do what we plan to do: alternate.

The Take Back at Detroit Bar, 843 W. 19th St., Costa Mesa, (949) 642-0600. Wed., 9 p.m. Free. 21+.

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