December 31, 2011
If each year of the Perpetual Groove story were a chapter in a novel, the closing paragraphs of the one that recently closed would have been one of the most climactic to date. However, it has been no fairytale along the way. With 11 years under their belt, the Athens â€” by way of Savannah â€” quartet has experienced the peaks of a soaring mountain, the depths of a lofty valley, and have earned all the success that they have received.
Throughout their tenure, PGroove has played before tens of thousands and on some nights, less than 100. Like any group of friends, they have not always agreed on everything. However, they have always had one another’s back and constantly remained unwavering in their faithfulness to fans and the thing that matters most to a band: making well rehearsed, lyrically authentic and instrumentally sound music.
The John Hruby Era
In 2008 PGroove’s annual event, Amberland, was advertised as “The Last Robot Waltz,” a blending of the billing of The Band’s last performance and Perpetual Groove tune, “Robot Waltz.” The title was crafted following the announcement that PGroove’s founding ivory-tickling member, Matt McDonald, would be departing from his duties. At that event he would pass the keyboard torch to Guest’s John Hruby.
The announcement had fans filled with trepidation. No one, they thought, could bring what McDonald had brought to their beloved band’s table.
As Hruby’s time grew, his skills were undeniable. His vocal harmonies, stage energy, fan interaction and the unyielding hilarious banter between he and front man Brock Butler were the perfect fit. Within six months, he had become fully embraced by the majority of the PGroove community.
Sure, many continued to reminisce about the sound that had hooked them in the “Matt days,” but those days were over. Hruby was their guy. The transition was as close to seamless as a personnel change can be.
Over the past two years, something began to happen. Though nobody could pinpoint a reason, venues were less filled, and a once active message board had all but crawled to a stop. Though the music was still good, it seemed that the band was growing tired. Thoughts fleeted that a ceiling had been hit and that the sparks and high hopes that had previously reigned were slowly being extinguished.
The fact was, longtime fans could never rid themselves of persistent euphoric recall of the days when 20,000 people showed up for the 2005 Bonnaroo PGroove set…when venues were packed, ideas were fresh, energy was rampant and the uptick of their adored band was constant.
Then something happened.
November 17, 2011
In early November, news began to swirl that Matt McDonald would rejoin his brethren permanently, refilling the shoes that had been worn by John Hruby for over three years.
The return of the torch from Hruby to McDonald would happen at a sold-out gig at the famed Athens venue, the Georgia Theatre, recently restored following a devastating fire.
Though all of the PGroove devotees expressed their appreciation for John Hruby and sadness regarding his departure, it was clear that this changing of the guards, combined with new management, had the potential to be reignite the spark.
New Year’s Eve
After selling out the 1,200-capacity Georgia Theatre, Perpetual Groove took to Atlanta’s Center Stage with high hopes. So did their fans. In speaking with many prior to the gig, the resounding sentiments included words like “excitement,” “anxious” and “fresh.” From jump street it was apparent that it was going to be a good night.
Following a solo performance by Perpetual Groove drummer, Albert Suttle, the band started promptly at 10:00 and launched into “Occamâ€™s Blazer.” The preceding nervous energy that filled the house was finally released in the forms of dance and trance.
Stage smiles were abound as musicians interacted, most notably on the typically stoic face of bassist Adam Perry, who looked like a kid in a candy store. It was clear that the split with Hruby was obviously amicable and like proud friends, the faces in the crowd were filled with approval, excitement and spirit.
The night progressed and as it did, the keyboardists alternated turns or simultaneously played together, each with their own rig: something that had not been the case in Athens.
Rather than provide a note-for-note review of an evening that saw (amongst many other things) Under the Porch and the eye-candied presence of wives and female friends take the stage on Arcade Fire’s “Wake Up,” and Brock Butler lose the guitar in exchange for a tambourine and tom drum, it is important to take in this show on its whole. Sure there were some musical hiccups, but that was not the real story on what was a magical night for fans and band alike.
As the 2011 chapter reached its final pages, Perpetual Groove had set the stage for a climactic ending, a cliffhanger that has Perps on the edge of their seat as they anxiously anticipate the next chapter. PGroove 2.0 looks and feelsÂ like it is going to be a hell of a ride.
I. Occamâ€™s Blazer*, Holy Ship*, Luthien & Beren**, Drink Then Fill*,hRobot Waltz***
II. Wake Up*^, Auld Lang Syne> At The Screen*, Macumba***^^, Cairo*^^^, Mr. Transistor*> The Star Spangled Banner%%
Encore: Sweet Oblivious Antidote***%, All My Friends*
NOTES: * John Hruby on keys; ** Matt McDonald on keys; *** John Hruby & Matt McDonald on keys; ^ Arcade Fire Cover with Under the Porch & The Ladies of Perpetual Groove with Matt McDonald on guitar, 1st Time Played; ^^ With Brock Butler Rap, With John Hruby Throwdown Rap; ^^^ With “The Cave” (Mumford & Sons) Tease; % w/ Gary Paulo on Sax; %% Brock Butler Solo
Click the thumbnail(s) to view more photos from the NYE show by David Shehi…
(See below for photos from the Georgia Theatre, 11/18/11)
Click the thumbnail(s) to view photos from the Athens show by David Shehi…