Rain Slows Winston’s First Big Outdoor Show
I once met Brock Butler, front man for the Athens-based jam kings Perpetual Groove www.perpetualgroove.com, at a time when he and his band were undoubtedly in a different position than they are now. Perpetual Groove was slated to play a summertime gig in 2003 at a regrettably now-defunct Greenville watering hole called Peasant’s Tavern. He was hunched over at the bar two hours before show time, throwing back Grey Goose and cranberry, with not a soul around. Though they were still barely making waves at the time, a jam-band fest on the verge of incredible popularity put one of Perpetual Groove’s cuts on its 2003 sampler CD, causing just about every head in attendance to drive home rocking to P. Groove’s “TSM2”. They showed up at that same festival a couple of years later, blew away a crowded tent of about 20,000 fans the opening night and since then have been grouped with the elite of the jam circuit. Anyone who paid attention to their crowds in their early years undoubtedly heard Butler’s name mentioned in the same breath as Phish’s Trey Anastasio, with the band’s music possessing that same quirky panache. Although Perpetual Groove was originally slated to kick off the Triad’s outdoor concert season on April 1, we were all made out as fools by the threat of April showers and the show was relocated to the Lawrence Joel Memorial Coliseum’s Education Building. The trickery had just begun, however, as the band eased into the opening licks of “Crowded Tub” before pulling the rug out with 20 minutes of instrumental funkiness with “Decepticon Structure” and, yes, 20 minutes is fairly standard for their songs. They call them “jam bands” for a reason. The usually perpetual groovers were out in force, as tie-dyed tour wookies and polo-and-boat shoe-wearing trustafarians twisted and writhed among each other in a weird kind of socially destratified harmony. For more explicit context, there were was a guy in a muumuu with a stuffed fish draped over his shoulder standing next to a pretty blonde in a Tri- Delt tee. Pretty lights and intense grooves have a weird way of bringing people together, that’s for certain. The brilliant purples and reds cast over Butler and company commingled with the billowing smoke to conceal the band in a mystifying haze, as everyone’s favorite “TSM2” was loosed merely two songs into the opening set. Though technically, it was about half an hour in. The feel-good lyrics and ethereal staccato of Butler’s guitar sent out waves of positive vibes, though the line “my soul rises up when the sun hits the ground” would have been better positioned in the original outdoor setting. A huge part of their appeal, P. Groove’s penchant for off-the-wall and unexpected cover tunes is well documented. Whether it’s Rage Against the Machine’s “Bulls on Parade” or the Butthole Surfers’ “Pepper,” there will be at least one every set. As the first set wound to a close, the awkward silliness of “Breeze” was mollified by the stirring opening bass line of the Talking Heads’ “This Must Be the Place (Na’ve Melody).” It’s a beloved choice among so many in the jam and indie communities, with it being a notable part of the live catalogs of the Arcade Fire, String Cheese Incident, MGMT, Animal Liberation Orchestra and even Burlington’s own Anonymous. But it’s a recurring favorite of P. Groove and that much was obvious as the fans recognized it instantly sang along with Butler throughout. Still, Butler’s cracking voice fell a little short of doing the sweetly emotional song the justice it deserved. Though the early comparisons to Phish were wildly premature, Perpetual Groove has their own intriguing qualities that separate them from others in their scene. Though many of their set-list building tactics, i.e. finishing songs several nights later, have been employed by the Disco Biscuits for years prior, it’s what often happens in the midst of the songs that sets them apart. The second set was full up with their quirky randomness, as Butler channeled Kenny Powers of “Eastbound & Down” during opener “Walking in Place.” “I want you to be still, beautiful audience,” Butler said. “Because I’m about tof**k you up with some truth.” For those paying attention, there the band tossed in one tease after another. They worked the opening licks to Rush’s “Tom Sawyer” in during “Speed Queen,” and even dropped a few lyrics from Guns ‘N Roses “You Could Be Mine” in during the bridge jam. Earlier in the first set, there was even a nod to “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” during “Breeze.” The highlight came, however, as Butler broke out nearly his entire arsenal of rap references during second set closer “Macumba,” which even encore “It Starts Where It Ends” couldn’t top. As bassist Adam Perry and keyboardist Jon Hruby laid down a funky electro groove, Butler dropped the best of Petey Pablo, Jay-Z, Snoop Dogg, Wu-Tang Clan and TI, while throwing in his own white- boy freestyle. Though the night started a little slow, it’s moments like that that made sitting through some of those workmanlike jams worth it in the end.