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Published: 2001/06/12
by Dan Alford

An Intimate Evening with Percy Hill- Club Helsinki, Great Barrington, MA 6/8

Set I: Do It Again Jam*, Make Believe, Don't Think
About It, Soggy Weather Skunk, Rush Hour Traffic,
Color In Bloom, Beneath the Cover
Set II: Shining On Creation, The Now, Aubade, Soul
Sister, Ammonium Maze
E: Slave (Self-Promoted), Soul Shakedown

  • Steely Dan Cover; instrumental

The Hill folk crept down from the White Mountains to
the quiet village of Great Barrington in the southern
Berkshires on Friday night. The town is best known to
jammers as the perennial home of the soggiest festival
around, but it is also home to one of the coolest
little venues around. Club Helsinki has been open for
just over a year and has hosted such favorites as
Soulive, Uncle Sammy, and Addison Groove Project, with
upcoming shows from Sco and Charlie Hunter. The room
is small and quirky, with the ambiance of a den
emanating from the colored glass and tortured
paintings that back the small stage. Because of the
relative newness of the venue and the slightly out of
the way location, a show at Club Helsinki promises a
small crowd, much of which doesn't even know the band
performing. For Percy's first show in the room the
crowd topped out at about 45 people- a nice change
from the hundreds that hit every show in Boston, NYC
and Hartford.

The atmosphere was ripe for a killer show. I spent
most of the first set seated directly in front of the
band, living the life of that guy in the Maxell logo.
It was fantastic! When I couldn't take it any longer,
I grabbed an out of the way spot by Nate's setup and
began to boogie. The opening Steely Dan cover/jam was
a real treat. Whether intentional or not, Percy's
sound echoes in the hall built by Steely Dan- the
fluid segmentation and literate lyrics. Joe was
sounding great, playing a red hollow body borrowed
from a friend. He stuck with that guitar throughout
the entire evening. Its resonance and sustain
complimented, and was complimented by, Nate's B-2. An
excellent shift in Percy's over all sound.

The following Make Believe rolled through in fine
fashion; John bouncing along on a stage so small that
Nate was forced onto the floor. More wonderful
blending of guitar and organ. Subtle piano from the
Kawai underscored Joe's vocals in Don't Think About
It. After the rain line, the guitar darted nimbly
through the mist and landing in a hot final jam that
had the leads scorching one another. Although each
song was well received, no one was dancing yet.

Soggy Weather Skunk offered up some brutal reggae
rhythm and nice vocals work. Nate cropped up for a
short but strong interlude between the first two
verses, and a fine solo later on. The sparse keys
conversed with expressive drums, the combination
leading to a dramatic end jam. Deep piano, which
would recur through the night, was offset by light
Moog niblets, and pushed by a lumbering bass line.
Very well done.

Rush Hour Traffic finally forced me out of my seat.
The structured song disappeared quickly, swallowed up
by a super-smooth groove jam. It raced on and on,
lacing around a steady rhythm section. The final
outcome had something of a Grant Green feel, with Nate
playing the role of Green. Bend your mind just a bit
and you'll understand. This was a major highlight of
the night. Before the show Joe and Nate were joking
about playing lounge music in the eclectic room, but
it was apparent that they couldn't help but rock out.

I was surprised to hear Color In Bloom introduced.
This one has been known to stretch into some strange
places, even though the techno-jam version has fallen
by the wayside in the last year. This version,
however, was none too long. The lyrics came up
quickly and invoked the lucid vibe before the band
cast out. The guitar solo was pensive with long notes
lit by flashes of quick playing. After the chorus,
Nate upped the stakes. He set off at a good pace and
accelerated right to the close. John and Aaron both
shined at the close.

The Beneath the Cover set closer finally drew people
out to dance. It teased them just enough that by the
time the band returned with an excellent rendition of
Shining On Creation, people were on the floor. The
tune had barely finished when The Now started up. It
had full "We are here in the now." lyrics from Aaron
during the intro, and funky Rhodes from Nate's Kawai.
The energy was over the top and the room was hopping.
This song has incredible staying power; I like more
and more every time I hear it. And have for over two
years now.

The middle of the set featured Nate's new one, After
All, and one of Aaron's newer tunes, Aubade. Aubade
was my favorite version so far, as it was more
up-tempo than usual. However, this song still lacks
something. 313 had a sly intro, with Aaron and Joe
interacting playfully, but it was Soul Sister that
really raised the energy again. Nate's deep piano
resurfaced with awesome effects. At the end it was
coupled with the B-2, and Joe's vocals, and the song
got out of control. To be fair there were a couple
off notes during the frenzy, but they were quickly
swallowed by the energy.

Ammonium Maze went through a rather dramatic
transformation at the last Hartford show, and happily,
the transformation seems to have stuck. The center
solo, which has always been bursting with life, has
become a long winding road where Nate can truly
stretch out. He played a variety of statements, never
staying with one idea for too long. There was a look
of contemplation on his face as he repeatedly shifted
gears and tried varied avenues. Some amazing bass FX
came out of the keyboard zone, eliciting grins from
the band and fans alike. The jam eventually wound
down, Aaron skillfully cooling the air before heading
back to finish the song. Another major highlight.

We were treated to a double encore of Slave and Soul
Shakedown. The former featured some more Moog, which
was absent for much of the show, while the latter had
an odd bit of improvisation. Aaron was playing a
strange line, not dissimilar from Fishman's role in
Taste, but he and Nate just weren't meshing. Bu by
the end, the sounds had coalesced. All in all though,
this was a truly incredible night of music. Everyone
was having a great time- smiles all around. The band
seemed to thrive on the comfortable, casual mood of
the room and dished out one of my favorite shows to
date. The set list pairs well-rendered songs, like
Make Believe and Shining On, with open-ended jamming
in tunes like Rush, CIB and Ammonium Maze. Percy Hill
has a bunch of dates lined up this summer, so catch a
show if you can, and be sure not to miss their Sunday
set at Berkfest. For more on Percy Hill, check out
the June installment of Tape Cases, which will be up
in a couple of weeks.

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