Winston-Salem, North Carolina
May 2 & 3, 2008
The news spread amongst Perpetual Groove fans like a wildfire. The band announced on Friday, May 2 that seven year keyboardist Matt McDonald was leaving the band. McDonald, who had to leave the stage during a show last month and was subsequently taken to the emergency room, announced that he wished to spend less time on the road and more time at home with his family. The news was released only three hours before the start of the shows scheduled for Winston-Salem’s Corpening Plaza.
Since the closing of the legendary Ziggy’s venue in late November, this was also to be the first time Perpetual Groove had returned play in Winston-Salem, a long-time regular tour stop. The show went on with the remaining members, Brock Butler, Adam Perry and Albert Suttle.
Backstage the band members were quiet, grief -stricken. The band was in shock from the loss of Matt. That evening the band slowly marched on stage with sunken faces and gave slight waves to the crowd gathered to see them in the park. The fans who had already heard the bad news nervously awaited the outcome for the night.
The show started off with “Lost Connection,” an interesting and eerily ironic choice. The rest of the set list, intentionally or unintentionally, reflected the sadness of the band has they moved through the first set. The band is usually very energetic, but at this show they were subdued. Bassist Adam Perry, usually active on stage, played most of this show leaning against his amplifier, a pose not seen in years.
The second verse of “Save for One” seemed to echo the mood of the band: “Well my friend I hope we can say before we go that we stood, head held high, and we gave one hell of a show.” One listener commented that the first set was like a sad story. Guitarist Brock Butler later commented that the song choices for the night were not intentional, nor was he aware of the tone.
After the set break, the band stepped up the pace a little bit with “Thinkin’ Those Thoughts,” a cover of the Butthole Surfers’ “Pepper,” “Three Weeks,” “Sweet Oblivious Antidote,” and a cover of “Naïve Melody” by the Talking Heads. The show, sad yet well performed, came to a close with a heartfelt performance of “It Starts Where it Ends.” When all was said and done, the crowd had been treated to more selections off their first album than usually played these days. Even after the show, the band was quiet and left the venue quickly.
The next day the band remarked they had faced criticism of the sound since the announcement of the news. To prove all naysayers wrong, Perpetual Groove rocked with lifted spirits, high energy, and an excellent performance from the moment they got onto the stage until the last note of the encore.
The show opened with “Gorilla Monsoon,” a song many thought they wouldn’t see again without McDonald. “Monsoon,” like the other songs played in the weekend, was missing a part of the keys, but most of the sound was recovered by the other members of the band. “Monsoon” was the precursor to “Day the Way,” followed by a jam that will be a new song, still in the process of being finished.
The rest of the first set was “Free Ride to the Show,” a cover of Paul Simon’s “Diamond’s on the Soles of Her Shoes,” and “All this Everything pt. I,” which segued into a particularly superb version of “Space Paranoids.”
During the set break, listeners were much more vocal about the night’s performance. Many had positive comments on the sound, the cohesiveness of the trio, and how excellent the band had compensated for McDonald’s absence.
Perry’s bass seemed much more distinct, and Butler was able to experiment with certain effects more than before, including a new “Hot Hand” wah effect. There was more non-verbal communication between the members of the band, who faced each other to watch for the changes.
While the crowd thought the performance couldn’t get any better, Perpetual Groove returned to the stage to deliver their finest music of the weekend. The set began with a classic “Teakwood Betz,” followed by “Crapshoot,” which melted into an intensely powerful “Mota,” then “TSMM,” a cover of Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long,” and a final close of the set with a version of “Speed Queen” with more force than expected from a trio. The band said good night and left the stage after an encore of “Orange Wedge,” leaving many obliged to plan the next weekend to see the trio again as soon as possible.
Before Saturday’s show Brock confided that the band would go on as a trio for a while but would be consider adding another member at some point in the future. The reactions of many of the fans, via internet posts on the band’s message board, seem to be negative, and those comments were taken hard by Butler. Fans of PGroove will not hear their favorite songs played the same way again, as Matt MCDonald brought a distinct sound to the music.
McDonald will join the band for one last hurrah at the 6th annual Amberland Festival hosted by Perpetual Groove at Cherokee Farms in Lafayette Georgia over Labor Day Weekend. Since the news, many see this weekend as an obligatory trip to see the band as they remembered and to watch McDonald with Perpetual Groove.