Motopony Takes New York
How the band that Tacoma couldn’t love captured hearts in the Big Apple.
I run up from the subway and dash the wrong way down New York City’s Ludlow Street. It is 7:06 p.m.; Motopony is scheduled to go on at Pianos, a lower East Side club, at 7 p.m. I realize my mistake and make a frantic U-turn, run full speed through streets jammed with holiday crowds, and arrive at the packed club, begging my breath to come back. Eyes wide, I greet the first of two doormen, who checks my I.D., and I plunge into the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd. I see Daniel Blue through some shatterproof glass. He is onstage. I panic, thinking I am missing the beginning of the show.
Illustration by Jeremy Gregory for City Arts
No matter how you feel about the infamous Daniel Blue, front man of the formerly Tacoma-based band Motopony, you have to respect his power to manifest. From a thought of venturing into music to performing with Motopony in New York City for a room filled with music-industry folks, his climb to success has taken only a couple of years.
I’ve collected mostly negative responses when talking to Tacoma musicians about Blue’s accelerated musical journey with Motopony. “He hasn't paid his dues,” they say. “He's only been making music for a couple of years when other Tacoma bands have been at it for a decade-plus.” “He reinvents himself so often, how are we supposed to know he is sincere?”
Valid or not, these jabs don’t change the fact that Motopony has been signed by a small label, Tiny Ogre, that recently flew the band to New York for the show at Pianos, a celebration dinner and an acoustic set at the headquarters of Sony-owned artist development company Red.
I plow through wool-muffled murmurs to the second doorman, repeating to anyone who will listen, “I’m on the list. Jeremy Gregory.” He doesn't look at me, but scans his stickered clipboard. “The doors aren’t open yet,” he says. “I can’t let anyone in.” I have to wait in the bar. The doorman hands me some drink tokens.
As I relax, I look around the small packed bar, and I am pleasantly surprised to see some Tacoma people. Maureen from the Mad Hat Tea Company has traveled across country with a couple of friends to support Blue and his crew.
I see Daniel going out the back, so I run around and cut him off. “Daniel!” I yell at his leather-fringed back. He turns. I say, “Good luck.” He replies, “Thanks, man. Did you get your tokens?” I tell him I did and thank him before he descends into the club’s green room. I spin around and almost run into Brantley Cady, the guitarist. I greet him and explain that I want to ask him some questions after the show. He looks at me with a comically worried face and says, “Hopefully I don’t get too drunk by then and say something stupid. You may have to talk to my lawyer first.” The funny part is, the lawyer is really here, along with a few other suits.
The gatekeeper finally opens the floodgates and allows the crowd to funnel into the small back room. Before I know it, the guys are on the stage. Thomas Williams quiets the idling crowd by pounding out a quick Native drumbeat, joined by Brantley making a wobbly guitar fly noise that escalates and merges into the rhythm. Daniel starts in with some powerful improv chanting while Josiah Sherman, aka Buddy Ross, chimes in on the keys.
As the band seamlessly transitions into the next song, there are a few drunken bursts of encouragement for the hometown hero, while the majority of the crowd stands still, like sculptures. As the band ends the song “Euphoria” with Blue trailing off in the last line, “I want to feel good too,” it becomes clear that it’s not only the hometown crowd cheering. The band is quickly winning over the new audience.
“It’s finally happening to me,” Blue sings, the first line of the next song, “June.”
“I knew my time was coming soon,” he continues.
As the band ends “June,” Blue pleads with listeners to “just hold on” to their dreams, repeating “hold on” like a melodic mantra.
It is when the band starts into its best-known earworm, “King of Diamonds,” that I notice the crowd is settling in. The winter survival gear is beginning to grow in piles around the edges of the room, and empty glasses and bottles start to show up. A garden of cell phones and cameras has blossomed up from the pulsating crowd.
The vibe begins to feel more comfortable. Blue gets in his groove, using less pressured antics and showing off the natural beauty of his voice. The elusive and mysterious Buddy Ross is rhythmically digging into his keyboard. People in the audience are dancing and carrying on.
Motopony elegantly powers through the rest of the set.
Brantley misses his chance to say something stupid by passing out and ending up the base of a teetering hotel-bed sculpture of band equipment, forty-ounce beer bottles and hotel furniture.
Before I turn in, I quietly contemplate Blue and his potential new role as successful musician. He doesn't seem overwhelmed or even surprised. He just seems free, having figured out what his creative outlet should be. He has had a measure of success in almost everything he has tried, and it seems that Motopony is following the same script, but to a much greater degree. He seems sincere when he sings the words “I have to go and be myself.”
I wake up on the hotel room floor at 6 a.m. to an angry Brantley overflowing with questions for Thomas. “Where are my cigarettes?” “Where are my shoes?” “Does anybody know where my phone is?” “Who took off my socks?” He goes and smokes a cigarette and then we all go back to sleep. •