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Columns > Dan Alford - Audio Files

Percy Hill

Audio Files: Live Music Recordings
Edited By

Business stuff:
Next month Audio Files will look at Phish soundboards
that are in circulation, both because I’m really
feeling the hiatus right now, and because I’m eagerly
anticipating the first releases from the "Live Phish"
series. This month, however, we’ll be considering
that other PH quartet from that other mountain state.
Music:
Writing a long introduction to Percy Hill would little
more than an exercise in redundancy for me. Every
opportunity I get, I tout the strengths of New
Hampshire’s own- the fantastic songs, the subtle
layering of sounds, the musicianship and skillful
interplay of everyone in the band. Simply put, they
thrill and chill me time and again. Nate Wilson, Joe
Farrell, John Lecesse and Aaron Katz have the dubious
honor of being the most underrated band on the scene.
But don’t take my word for it. They’ve recently come
off an unofficial hiatus and are playing all over the
north east this summer, so go find out about the
mountain magic for yourself. For more info on Percy
Hill, including set lists, tour dates, reviews and CD
trees, check out www.percyhill.net (run by the "other
Dan", Dan Spilka, who has a review below) and
ammonium-mail at www.yahoogroups.com.
Percy Hill Berkfest, Gt. Barrington, MA 8-15-99 Casa de Vino > The Now, Soul Shakedown, Chrissy Reid, 313, Rush Hour Traffic, Another Air, Sisco Kid At festivals, more often than not, Percy has the honor of playing at least one Wake and Bake set. This one comes from Saturday, 'round about high noon, in the Berkshires. Every song on this disc is an excellent incarnation. If you're new to Percy, this is an excellent introduction; if you know the band, you'll love this show all the more. It fades in on the blissful instrumental, Casa de Vino, a tune missing from recent set lists. Aaron's drumming is light and energetic and carries the whole set at a perfect pace. As skilled a song-smith as he is, he is also and excellent, textural drummer. Joe's leads and chords slice through the mix and the song lands in The Now. Neither Nate nor Aaron miss a beat as the band flows right into a song tailor made for a sun shiny day. The interplay of clav and chords, thumping bass and high-hat send this one flying. Soul Shakedown is fast and fairly short. It keeps the energy high, almost a ska version. Chrissy Reid begins up-tempo, but settles into its mellower groove before the first verse begins. Nate's organ and Aaron's rim play sound so fine that even though it's a cool down, it keeps your ears attentive. From the drifting strains of the intro to the feverish speedball of Nate and Joe that closes, 313 also satisfies. It's the Rush Hour Traffic, however, that is the real highlight. Unlike most other PH tunes, Rush has no solid composition in the center- it's wide open and can head in any direction. This one hits the ground with big, round bass notes that are echoed by the clavinet moments later. Reverberating chicka-wah guitar enters the mix, perforated by popping bass notes. A nicely stratified organ climb dominates, and melts away to funky bass and rhythm guitar. Now the B-2 enters and rides the wave right to its shining apex. The crowd goes nuts. Another Air offers a very pretty cool down, but like the Chrissy earlier in the set, it is nonetheless engrossing. To close, Joe dedicates Sisco Kid to the Big Wu. It's short but fun, with Nate on the mouth organ so favored by John Medeski during the Swamp Road stage strut. [Editors Note: I've included two different reviews of the 3-3-01 show. Both were written independently, and together they a better perspective on the performance] Percy Hill Higher Ground, Winooski, VT 3-3-01
By Dan Spilka spilka@percyhill.net
I: Make Believe, Jasper, Soul Sister, Another Air,
Mollys Waltz, Aubade, Been So Long
II: Shining On Creation->Chrissy Reid, Where The
Streets Have No Name (U2 cover), Ammonium Maze, Don’t
Think About It, Golden Bottle, In the Now
E: Beneath the Cover
Set I:
Nice. we start off with Make Believe, a grooving,
smooth tune that works quite well as an opener. They
seem very tight and glide through it with good energy.
Joe Farrell rips out a slick jazz-rock guitar solo and
the band carries along hard behind him until they
migrate back to the verse. The vocals in this tune, of
drummer Aaron Katz and Joe Ferrell, work so well. One
thing about Percy Hill that sets them apart from some
bands is their attention to the vocals and the vocal
melody. Nate Wilson, keys, finishes up the tune with
an always inspiring solo.
Nate starts out the next tune with an ear catching,
maybe Herbie Hancock-ish, jazz progression until Joe
comes in with the opening guitar line of Jasper. If
people weren’t moving yet, they are now. Bassist John
Lecesse providing a solid, smooth groove. The middle
of the tune opens up into a fat groove. You can feel
it building, yet see no end in near sight. Joe ripping
out some outside the ear tones that just sound nasty
good. Joe’s playing is soulful and jazzy and is quite
good, often providing intricate rhythms. But as this
solo shows, when he’s ready to rip he can rip. The
energy going on in this solo is astonishing for just
the 2nd tune.
Soul Sister by now is a polished tune, waiting to be
recorded in the studio. Sometimes Aaron sings this
one, but Joe is handling now. I like the story/lyrics
in this tune and it always sounds solid.
Next up is Another Air, a tune crafted by Aaron Katz.
Maybe we’ll see this one on his solo album. To me I
think it’d be a better studio than live tune. But it
does catch a good amount of energy near the end.
Ah, but now Molly’s Waltz. This tune hasn’t been
played since mid to late 1999 I believe. One of their
oldest tunes, an instrumental… and some think it’s
one that can define Percy Hill. It starts off with Joe
and Nate teaming on a melodic melody until it then
kicks into a super high energy groove. But it doesn’t
stop there… man, they are playing this so tight yet
they sound so relaxed and loose as Nate busts into an
outrageous solo. If you haven’t heard Nate’s playing
yet, you should do so soon… gets the whole damn
place into it…enough said. Molly’s Waltz just plain
ol’ rips… as Nate actually says, after it’s
finished, it’s their oldest song.
Next is another tune that I would think is headed to
Aaron’s solo album… Aubade. Aaron is a ridiculous
songwriter, no doubt. But I have to admit this one is
not one of my favorites.
To close the first set comes Been So Long. An old
number that usually has a great opening intro jam .
And this one does not disappoint. Nate and Aaron keep
the melody and beat going as Joe comes along with some
funky rhythms. You know you have a great Been So Long
when the intro just takes on a life of its own…and
this one does. It actually gets to the point of a
short Fallen tease. John keeps this tune moving along
and Joe’s has a solo. Then Nate intros a slick solo
keeping the jam going as the band soars through the
instrumental sections of the tune. Clocking over 26
minutes total, what a closing number!
Set II:
The second set opens with Nate’s Shining on Creation.
I like how this tune works as a set opener as well.
This tune is just beautiful songwriting, which many
say is one of Percy Hill’s strengths. Gorgeous clean
piano intro into an almost reggae verse rhythm. I dig
John’s bass line in this one a lot. Joe and Nate sound
great singing this one. The outro of this tune is
awesome… kinda like a slight reggae feel turned
techno.
They segue right in Aaron’s Chrissy Reed… in fact
this segue makes it the best intro or transition into
Chrissy I’ve ever heard. Overall it’s definitely a
crowd pleaser and gets people happy and moving. It’s
always fun to hear.
Now comes an interesting cover of U2’s Where The
Streets Have No Name. I believe this is the first time
they played it. Some are kind of surprised to hear a
"jamband" do a U2 cover. But Percy Hill shouldn’t be
classified as only a "jamband". In fact labeling bands
of any kind probably shouldn’t be done…but that’s a
whole other issue. Anyhow, they certainly give this
one its justice. Joe does a nice job belting it out
vocally.
Quickly after finishing up Streets, they go into
Ammonium Maze. You can feel the people grooving to
this one. Aaron sings this one so well. When it gets
to Nate’s solo, the band just lets go. This seems to
be one of the tunes that stands out from their superb
Color in Bloom album.
Now comes another pleasant surprise! Don’t Think About
It! this is an older tune that totally fits the
smooth, grooving, jazzy rock they do now and have been
doing since the lineup change a few years back. This
tune just gets me going. The chorus just sticks in my
head while having its own feel. The guitar solo lets
out a nice high-energy Santana flavor.
Next is another old one, Golden Bottle. A slight
bluegrass feel on this one with a groove and chorus
that gets everyone going. John does a nice job singing
this one since the lineup change. A nice breakdown
featuring Aaron on the drums comes along. As they
groove bluegrass style and get the crowd clapping
along with the beat. "I said lord, lord, lord, you
don’t know what it’s like to get high".
They close the 2nd set with The Now. Nate funks it up
piano style on the intro to this one. This has been in
the rotation for a while now and is pretty tight. It
certainly keeps the crowd into it. You got to love the
lyrics of "Isn’t it amazing, this gift of life, I take
it for granted." "We are here in the now, living for
the moment." They close out with a stretched jamming
outro.
The encore is Beneath the Cover. It serves as a good
ending with the tempo being neither too fast nor too
calming. It’s a good tune that shows clever song
writing and great playing. It makes you leave with
quite a good taste in your mouth.
Overall, this show is high energy and has a great mix
of song selection. The fact that they play less
frequently makes each show more meaningful, while
keeping them fresh and excited about playing. Make
sure you catch them at some point this summer!
Percy Hill @ the Higher Ground, Winooski, VT 3-3-01
Disc 1, Set I: Make Believe, Jasper, Soul Sister,
Another Air, Molly’s Waltz, Aubade, Been So Long
Disc 2, Set II: Shining On Creation > Chrissy Reid,
Where the Streets Have No Name, Ammonium Maze, Don’t
Think About It, Golden Bottle, The Now E: Beneath the
Cover

[These soundboard recordings were treed not long ago
and are in broad circulation, so it shouldn’t be too
much of a problem to find them.] Right from the
start, it’s obvious that the band is at ease with a
hometown crowd. Make Believe is beautiful in its
mellow rumblings. I would love to see Percy do Eyes >
Make Believe > Eyes, or vice versa, since the two have
such a similar feel. Joe’s solo is fluid and cascades
over Nate’s organ-ic stretching. In turn the B-2
flutters and swirls around the rhythm section after
the second verse, maintaining long washes through the
ensuing chorus.
The howl of frustration that is Jasper is an early
highlight. Not only is it incredibly forceful with
its crashes and deep, plodding bass, but it has a
fantastic center that exhibits phenomenal restraint.
Early harsh chords eventually give way to blistering
flashes pathos, and before you know it the jam is
pounding down with its full force. Joe is really an
exceptional guitarist; he is versatile to the utmost,
happy to play true rhythm or spill out downpours of
nimble notes as the vibe dictates.
The energy continues to rise with the advent of Soul
Sister. One of Percy’s great strengths is that they
have a number of tunes that are sure to shock people
into a full-body, atom-smashing,
tap-that-girl-cause-she-could-light-California-for-a-month
funk down. Soul Sister is certainly in the forefront
of that list. The heavy bass, the acid that takes
control, the build, the return- wow! I can’t explain
it. Confusion is a bone deep in my chest.
The triumphant melancholy of Another Air gives a
slight respite. It’s a bit calmer, but it keeps you
moving. The vocals are excellent, Aaron’s voice
becoming another instrument in perfect synch with the
progression. Joe’s rhythm links with Nate’s
sustain/Moog-dance at the end, and it is GOOD. A rare
version of Molly’s Waltz graces this disc. A
wonderful instrumental that covers all the bases, it
begins and ends in a box step. The transitions
between segments are tight, Aaron facilitating each
hairpin turn. The solos are grounded in differing
regions, each so engrossing that you forget how you
got there. The band is at its finest here, shifting
and tossing out ideas with confidence and a
trickster’s grin.
"That was our oldest song. Now we’re gonna play our
newest song." Aaron’s voice, slightly raspy, sounds
just right, perfectly honest as he sings this short
love song. I feel like there is room for Aubade to
stretch, either between verses or at the end, but it’s
been a pleasure to watch this song mature and
literally improve with each performance.
A monster, 26 minute Been So Long closes the first
set. The intro jam is a masterpiece in itself. Right
at the start Aaron pulls out the steady bass and tom
that says, "We’re goin’ techno." Joe joins in with
fine rhythm work. Nate continues the intro all the
while. Then, bit by bit, they each begin to switch
their respective directions. John begins to toy with
his pedals; Nate offers a variety of statements and
washes. The groove is heavy and you can’t pull out.
At moments the band drops out, leaving Aaron’s
absolutely SOLID drumming alone, the foundation
exposed. But just as quickly a new form takes shape.
Oh man, this is it! 8-9 minutes in the jam becomes
something akin to the most breakneck Bubblehouse
you’ve ever heard, before dropping back to the intro
and first verse. The end jam begins with a bank of
pretty, bent notes from Joe. The music winds up into
a ball of focused energy, accented by lightning-fast
notes, a rising bass line and broad splashes of B-2.
The bubble bursts and Nate takes over, building his
city from the ground up, although happily the
architecture resembles that of the intro jam.
Disc 2 opens with Shining On Creation, at present my
favorite Percy Hill song. Nate’s piano is perfect at
the beginning- briefly dramatic before settling into
rhythm mode. It continues with delicate cascades
throughout the song. Joe’s vocals have a fine luster,
and there are cool FX from John at the close that
carry the transition into a nice Chrissy Reid. The U2
cover is straight ahead, and surprisingly light on the
Edge-style guitar.
Ammonium Maze brings back the bounce. Aaron’s vocals
are particularly nice leading into the center jam.
Nate and Joe noodle about for a second before they
pick up on the rhythm section and try to trace the
long blank road. It’s somewhat expansive, though
unlike more recent versions, and ends in a wild head
shaking stomp.
After Don’t Think and a short Golden Bottle, the show
closes with The Now- a perfect choice. It does just
what a closer should, blending raw, excited energy
with precision and just enough restraint. Beneath the
Cover is an equally accurate choice for the encore,
tapping into the energy already bouncing off the walls
and spreading it around.

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