December 30-31, 2010
The scene at Variety Playhouse where Perpetual Groove would celebrate the eve of the year of the rabbit with a two night stand was a decade in the making. Over the course of ten years, the band affectionately known as PGroove has observed both triumph and struggle on both personal and professional levels. They have played to crowds of 20,000 and to crowds of 100 or less. They have seen the departure of a founding member, keyboardist Matt McDonald, and the fracture that this caused in its faithful both on message boards and in personal relationships. There has been marriage, birth of new life, and loss of loved ones. Through it all, there has been music and the decision to carry on in spite of and because of it all. And this, the third celebration of the New Year in a row that has been housed in the Variety, would go down as one of the most successful and stout Perpetual Groove stands of them all.
After the tragic fire at Georgia Theater, Perpetual Groove shows at Variety Playhouse have become special affairs for many reasons, but primarily because it is a venue where PGroove family and friends, commonly referred to as Perps typically decide to gather en masse to catch up and bask in the music that for many, has provided a soundtrack for their past five to ten years. It is the venue where we were all launched into the "Huffer-Dome" (named after then lighting director, Jason Huffer) on 8/4 & 8/5/06 and Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou came to life before our very eyes via the film connoisseurs that make up the band. To put it simply, it has become the Amberland between Amberlands, and if there was one way to depict this run as a whole and for lack of adequately poetic means of idiom or expression, the summation would be: everything came full circle, life lived, family thrived, the past was relished but left in the wake, and a clear resolve was born.
December 30th brought the Pgroove faithful out in droves, yielding a near capacity crowd. The crowd filed in early primarily due to an announcement that came hours before the show that PGroove drummer Albert Suttle would be performing one of his Twist sets, an affair that is ever increasing in popularity. After about 45 minutes of synthetically infused percussive splendor, Albert left the stage only to rejoin the stage shortly thereafter for the first night of what would be two nights of solidly executed mayhem.
Upon taking the stage, front man and guitarist Brock Butler began the evening with his unique trickling ambience that would eventually bring a light under toned bass synchronization from Adam Perry that signaled some of the purest and heartwarming improvisation imaginable. It was led primarily by keyboardist John Hruby, who provided a funk-filled liftoff that gave the jam an especially spine tingling curl when coupled with Butler’s picking. If anyone needed evidence of what Hruby brings to this fold, there was enough from the jump on this night. It was clear that he has not only found his niche, but is now just as much a part of the improvisational build up as Butler. It also served to showcase a band that is united. As Suttle remained the guardian of the groove, Perry grew it from there, and Butler and Hruby were able to take creative strides but always have a place to call and return home to in the mix. After some strategically placed Massive Attack lyrics, a staple but rarely rotated 24 minute long "Crowded Tub" was born, and the throng shrieked with delight. The bar had been set high.
As the set progressed and all were informed that they were all about to get "one hell of a show" in "Save for One," a heavier yet uplifting tune from the album LIVELOVEDIE. For the uninitiated or perhaps the uninformed, Mr. Suttle felt it necessary to signal "Stealy Man" with one of his angrily planetary drum sessions, reminding anyone who needed reminding of just how much of a badass he is on the kit. After an out of place "Sweet Caroline" that did little other than provide a sing along, the band abruptly got back into serious musicianship and demonstrated one of the many areas that separate them from many in the "jam scene"– lyrics. They did so with the first tune of the night from their newest album HEAL, "Too Close to the Sun." This passionately lyrical gem that brings the tale of Icarus, the angel who fell to his death as a result of the wax on his wings melting due to his insistence on testing the god Helios and after forewarning, into a present day tune about misunderstanding, risk, and tragedy.
"Occam’s Blazer" the evolving monster of a number would close the set. What started as an ambient dawdling groove ultimately just built upon itself in layers before spawning what felt like a climactic plateau, only to be taken up one more level on the heels of Butler, who with the help of his pedal steel guitar, endowed the Perpetual throng with a dance charged ending to the first set.
What better way than for the band to come out swinging than with the heavy guitar riffed "Speed Queen?" Rarely a set opener, its placement alone gave insight into how strong of a set was in store. When sandwiched with a first time played cover of Pink Floyd’s "Young Lust," the mash-up that was bred yielded the comment from a nearby gentleman that "You can’t be hungry after that sandwich." After the spiritual and powerful reprise of "Speed Queen" the crowd was back in full dance mode. As a time to both reflect and more importantly breathe, the beautifully melodic and lyrically heavy "It Start Where It Ends" was played next. While there was nothing particularly spectacular about the rendition, it was clear through a survey of the crowd and from the looks on the band’s faces that the song had a special meaning for the evening, a renewed energy, a rebirth if you will. The show could have ended right then and the message would have been received…"the start of this story is not where this tale begins."
After the integration of a Hruby original "At the Screen," a tune that was brought over from his previous band, Guest, and provides the perfect platform for Hruby and Butler to display their vocal dynamic, the set would end with a sermon from the Rev. Butler taking everyone to the service for an especially rap-heavy and set ending "Walking In Place." A double encore of "Space Paranoids">"All This Everything pt. I" took the crowd out on a high note and left them anxiously longing for more on night two.
It was nearly time to close the books on the chapter that was not only 2010 but the double-zero decade as a whole. Fans were out in full force for what they knew would be a show for the ages. Filling the Playhouse to its brim, many were unfortunately left ticketless outside. With smiling and anxious faces extending down the street and around its corner, much of the pre-show conversation centering in whether or not the band could top the previous night. The eventual answer would be an emphatic yes.
Providing an opening set, Athens based Kite to the Moon served a set that was far too steeped in Flaming Lips playbook to the point of what even seemed to be an attempt at replication of Wayne Coyne’s inciting stage mannerisms and demeanor. It simply did not work. Though the musicians would later have a chance to show their chops on stage with PGroove, their own set left room for improvement and much to be desired.
Dressed to kill, the band took the stage with Butler and Perry in three-piece suits and the show kicked off with "Up Again." A far cry from the opener of the preceding night, this track once again played in to the unconscious theme of the entire run: that Perpetual Groove is on a mission to commence on a decade of success based upon a collective and immense experience that has been hard won for many moons. Its uplifting musical undertone that caravans the reflective and somewhat somber lyrics with parallelism could not have been a better vehicle to open up a show that was about time’s future with a periphery view of the rearview mirror.
After a brief crowd welcoming, the band launched into arguably their most famous and well-loved songs, the ever funky, key driven "Three Weeks." This song that was born from a response by Butler while lying on the ground at a festival on his 21st birthday has welcomed many an eventual Perp into the fold with its pristine composition and poetic integrity that takes its listener on a musical journey that splits time and musical space. It was played to perfection and the energy that originated in the sound waves took root in the crowd and eventually was recycled back to the stage just in time for "Playground" that segued into Paul McCartney original "Live and Let Die."
After an obligatory break, Butler took the stage solo to warm the crowd up with a trance inducing "Playground" and much more downplayed rendition completion of its former from less than an hour before. As the song trickled into a loop, Suttle kicked in a spaceship shuttle launch countdown sample that would end in "Auld Lang Syne," cannons, kisses in the crowd, and champagne all around.
As the majority of the hype subsided, and most people had their feet firmly planted in 2011, the band welcomed back the guys from Kite to the Moon to the stage for a hilarious and light hearted rendition of Queen’s "Bohemian Rhapsody."
The band settled then back in for what would be some of the finest perpetual exploration as well as one of the finest sets of music they have ever orchestrated. From the thumping bass that indicated the beginning of "Crocket and Tubbs" and the eventual bass runs that pounded the chests and shook the asses of every ticket holder in attendance before yielding to a Suttle provided perfectly-timed-groove that allowed Butler to once again stir souls with his pedal steel.
"Cairo" has been referred to on Perpetual Groove’s fan forum, Talking in Place, as airy, feel good, and musical rain drops from the sky. While all of these connotations are valid, what the four lads did with this song on this night with this 22 minute performance was singularly exceptional. The song took on a previously unbeknown transcendental state with leaning jams that swayed like dancing trees while never straying too far from its original composition to a point that listeners and dancers could completely lose their footing in the comfort and footing in a song that is by nature, nurturing. Complete with an instrument swap that took Perry to the keys and Hruby to the Novation, a jungle beat from Suttle, and a Butler thrown in "Riders on the Storm" tease, this offering moved from being simply a song to being a voyage into a dark and spacey abyss that nobody could have seen coming from the opening notes.
After the synth-heavy "March of Gibble’s Army, a "This has been such a great night, thank you guys so much," and the always necessary and welcome whimsical (Tribute to Freddie Prinze Jr.) "TTFPJ" that segued into the final reprisal "Playground," the set came to a close with power and fortitude.
Feeling good and full of gusto, the crowd cheered the guys back onstage for their final curtain call. "New Years is a special time of you get to see all of your friends," Hruby added as his keys introduced the LCD Soundsystem cover of "All My Friends," now so well adopted by the band. It was a telling moment and it demonstrated that the sentiments in the crowd were equally shared by their beloved band. To seal the deal on the emotion, the show’s conclusion saw the return of Kite to the Moon as they all delivered the emotional and heart tugging ballad "Sweet Oblivious Antidote," leaving kazoo blowing fans both new and old excited for and engaged with where this new decade will take us in our perpetual quest for the sound of the band that so many have come to know and love.
It is not often that a band so naturally connects with their fans. Perhaps it comes from years of experience, but one thing was clear on this run after speaking with Brock Butler at length in the days that followed, it was unintentional and completely not orchestrated. The connection was organic and if home is where the heart is, the entire residence at Variety was grown at home. A decade in, Perpetual Groove continues to mature and impress its sound on new fans while never failing to remember those of old. If this weekend was any indication of where this outfit is at professionally, it is unambiguously clear that Perpetual Groove is only getting started. Cheers to 2011 and beyond.
Set 1: Crowded Tub, Save For One, Stealy Man, Sweet Caroline, Too Close to the Sun, Flower, Occams Blazer
Set 2: Speed Queen>Young Lust*>Speed Queen, It Starts Where it Ends, At the Screen, AIM, Walking in Place
Encore: All This Everything Part I>Space Paranoids
Set 1: Up Again, Three Weeks, Playground>Live and Let Die, All In, Cabulo Monstrosity, You and Yours
Set 2: Playground>NYE Countdown/Auld Lang Syne, Bohemian Rhapsody, Crockett and Tubbs, Cairo, The March of Gibbles Army, TTFPJ> Playground
Encore: All My Friends, Sweet Oblivious Antidote