Charlotte, North Carolina
December 31, 2007
The Neighborhood Theatre had the lights low well before Perpetual Groove took to the stage to bring in the New Year. There were balloon obstacle courses leading from the entrance to the theatre, and an incandescent glow to the room that seemed almost soothing. It was a cold night, and the energy was palpable as people excitedly waited to make their way into the beckoning, pulsating room.
The dance floor had filled up early, and a little after 9pm the band took the stage. Rather, they emerged from the mist and the haze. They picked up their acoustic instruments and took their seats – it would be a mellow beginning. Perpetual Groove’s sound is still their own during the acoustic set, but it takes an entirely different avenue. They played several songs, including “Under Lock and Key,” and a funky version of “Thinkin Those Thoughts.” Keyboardist Matt McDonald walked over and took the acoustic guitar from Brock Butler, who switched to his electric gear. They did a stirring rendition of Pink Floyd’s “Mother.” Butler nailed the vocal, and the set was over.
The second set opened with the band doing what it does best. They opened up with “Sundog > Breeze” and immediately showcased the well-constructed instrumental arrangements, disappearing into the grooves that whisk the crowd to the unknown. They closed the set by calling up the SeepeopleS’ Will Bradford for a take on U2’s “Bullet the Blue Sky,” then announced they would be back a few minutes before midnight.
Albert Suttle was a powerhouse. Clearly schooled on metal, or at the very least garage rock, he attacked his drum set like they were all of his problems in the world. During “Crapshoot,” he took a solo that would have been comfortable in a set by Led Zeppelin. That being said, he played off of the band’s melodies with surprising sensitivity and a superb ear. And while Perpetual Groove is four guys, there are five presences on stage. They have guitar, bass, keys and drums, but this band is bigger than their instrumentation, the sum being greater than the parts.
For a venue of its size, the Neighborhood Theatre came alive with a vengeance as the band’s lights twirled and rolled and constantly followed the band into often uncharted territories. At times, the only visible thing on stage was the light show, using PGroove as a soundtrack. The band disappeared into the strobes and flashing colors that exploded around them. At times, they relaxed comfortably into a spotlight or burst of energy that suddenly emerged from below, behind, or above. The lights were alive, and they swept through the crowd – pushing, prodding…reminding us that New Years Eve comes but once a year.
The third set was about two hours in length and it stayed strong all night. They did a stirring rendition of Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long,” and played fan favorites ranging from throughout their career. PGroove opened its encore with “Macumba,” and then Butler put down his guitar and showcased what seemed to be his true passion. It seemed he had played guitar all night long just so that he could put it down at the end of the show and pick up the microphone. He started off slow, just a little spelling of his name: B-I-G-B-R-O-C-K-A, then he was singing “Big Poppa.” He leaned down to the front row and plucked the most hip-hop accessories he could find. He came back up wearing plastic sunglasses and a white, plastic top hat. He flew through raps, from the Beastie Boys “Rhymin’ and Stealin’” to Wu-Tang Clan’s “Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthing Ta Fuck Wit,” along with a slew of others. He sounded oddly like Will Smith back when he was still The Fresh Prince.
Then, gracefully, Butler replaced his microphone and picked up his guitar for “Save for One.” With that, the night was spent. It was 2008. Three sets and close to five hours of music into the evening. The crowd had gotten their countdown and their “Auld Lang Syne,” but the night was so much more than that.