Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Mojo Lemon

--> Monday was Mojo Night. The ChippewaValley Blues Society met at Pizza Plus Monday night for a quarterly meeting and hired one of the Chippewa Valley's most accomplished blues bands to play after the meeting: a Christmas gift from CVBS to the public.

I first caught Mojo Lemon in 2008 at The Snout Saloon in Chippewa Falls. I was still testing the live- music-waters. For many going out to see live music is a social event, a reason to gather with friends, catch up, firm up new social connections and nurse old ones. And I get that.  But it's not why I go to live music events. I go for the music. Period. And because of this I typically go alone.

I don't want to try and hold a conversation—the music's too loud. I don't want to do the whole collectivist, “Are you having a good time? Do you want to leave?” thing. Don't expect me to get into a conversation about work, or kids, or politics, or Neil Degrasse Tyson, or relationships. We can do that while eating, taking a walk, grabbing a cup of coffee or just hanging out. But not during live music.

I don't mind going to live music with like-minded people. We might occasionally look at each other and say, “That was a rocking drum solo!” or “Oh no! He broke a string.” or “Gwad, that brought tears to my eyes!” Or perhaps we can dance. Dancing is good.

So in 2008 I was at The Snout because I'd heard this was a good band.  I was still self-conscious about being a single, sober woman, going out to the bars alone. Have you been to The Snout? It's one of Chippewa Falls' best dive bars. It's got that edge. That vague promise of out-of-control-ness. That interesting mix of citizens and street denizens. My kind of bar. To my knowledge The Snout is perfectly safe, but still. 

So I'm alone, a bit self conscious and then there's Mojo. Some might find it unremarkable to walk into a dive bar and discover superior music, but it was a shock to me. Mojo Lemon consists of three core musicians:

Josh Entzminger plays guitar and sings
Will Chopper works the keys and sings,
Terry Demars jams on bass and vocals

That night at The Snout Big Jay Introwitz was on drums. Jason (Jay) is fun to watch. He floats behind the drumset—all Zen-like—and appears to channel his muse from the collective aether. And he's got a great voice. On Monday night Dave Schrader held the drumsticks. Dave is totally present. He plays in various other local bands including Rada Dada, Dixie And The Dreamers, and The Sue Orfield Band.

My first impression of Mojo Lemon in 2008 was that they were too good. I kid you not. It was obvious that they were superb musicians and it felt like each member was in his own music-bubble. I've written that I believe each band is like a living organism with the individuals interacting to create a bigger whole. And, for me, part of that whole—that synergy—involves offering a glimpse into each member's personality. Way back in 2008 Will Chopper bobbed behind the keyboard, Jason Introwitz floated behind the drums, Terry Demars jammed behind his bass and Josh Entzminger let loose behind his guitar. All skillful, all talented and, except for some playful back-and-forth between Josh and Will, there was little interaction with each other or with the audience. The coolest thing about following bands is watching them grow.

On Monday night at Pizza PlusMojo Lemon owned the stage and the audience. Pizza Plus mounted a backdrop of red covering the windows and added a sparkly-white Christmas tree. Josh's guitar was red. They played a two hour gig and were polished, accomplished, tight, fun and interactive. They rocked—or is it bluzed?

I was having a great time dancing and can't offer a complete set list, but here are some highlights:

They kicked off the night with Luther Allison's “It's A Blues Thing.” The perfect song to get the house warmed up and bouncing in their seats. The second number was a jump blues number, first recorded in 1945 titled “Caldonia” featuring Josh on guitar. They played Muddy Waters and Freddy King's “Woman Across the Water” which features cool, complex tempo-and-beat change-ups. Josh sang a very convincing Elmore James song, “The Sky Is Crying” and Dave started the next song with a rolling drum solo. I'm not sure what that song was (I was dancing) but it morphed into a verse of “Big Boss Man” and out again. Josh sang BB King's “You Upset Me,” Terry sang what I think was Blind Lemon's “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean” and “Seventh Son.” Will's keyboards offered a perfect bridge between R&B and the blues and he sang one of my favorites, Barbara George's “I Know You Don't Love Me No More.” The final song was an amazing rendition of Jimi Hendrix's “Voodoo Child.” The music was really, really loud (I bring earplugs—a live-music necessity), but the sound was sharp and clear.

In 2008 I couldn't imagine Mojo Lemon getting better, but they have.

Terry Demars' voice is bluesy-rough with a touch of street that gives his songs of loss and masculine sorrow an authentic edge. Today it's stronger and true and has grown into an instrument all of its own. And his stance behind the microphone is bigger. He owns his lyrics. The only way I really know music—good or bad—is intuitively, but it feels like Terry's bass playing is surer, more confident, and Monday night I saw him kicking back and really enjoying his band-mates' performances. Terry now looks and feels like a quintessential blues-man.

Dave Schrader didn't miss a beat and there's no question why he's in demand. I think drummers are the unsung heros of the music-world. They are essential—the musical foundation—and their job is paradoxical: when they play well they fade into the background, allowing the other musicians to shine in the spotlight. When they don't do well, the whole thing is screwed. Dave was excellent.

Will Chopper is a consummate performer. His enjoyment is obvious as his notes intertwine with the other instruments, giving this band a unique sound. He be-bops and grins as he plays and sometimes I think that if he could take his keyboards out into the audience and dance he would. Some of the most fun moments in their show is when he and Josh trade riffs—a lively and boisterous musical conversation.

And there's Josh. His guitar playing is physical. It looks like he is literally pulling the music out with his feet—stealing from some elemental place at the earth's core—pushing it through his body and out through his fingers and into the guitar. He's an amazing talent. 

This band really showed off their skillful versatility in “Voodoo Child.” It was mostly instrumental and Will and Josh took us through a history of great rock and roll styles. Will's organ reminded us of Emerson Lake and Palmer, and the Josh went into a Clapton-like riff. And of course Josh's pristine and muscular guitar totally channeled Mr. Hendrix himself.

Mojo Lemon will be playing at The Snout this Saturday (12/21/13). If your a blues fan—or just enjoy good music—and you haven't caught them, you gotta go. If you have caught them I know you'll want to see them again. You can see their gig schedule here.


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  2. Excellent post about a phenomenally talented band. I should disclose that I am Dave's daughter, but I fell in love with Mojo Lemon long before my dad was given the opportunity to sit in for Jason. At first, I was taken by Terry's unique voice, which is perfect for translating the blues. And then, I heard Josh play and I was in awe. I could listen to him jam for hours.

    Your post is wonderfully written and accurately descriptive. Jennifer, I don't think we've had the pleasure of meeting (yet), but somehow I feel as though we are kindred spirits of a musical soul. Thank you for supporting the local music scene, for putting yourself out there, and I know the local musicians appreciate your "voice".

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words. It's easy to write about what I like. And I like Mojo. I look forward to meeting you, Brianna. ~Jennifer