Percy Hill, Redhook Festival, Portsmouth, NH- 9/13
On a sun drenched September Saturday, Percy Hill took the stage, bedazzling in bright wigs, and welcomed the day by slinking into Sun Machine. A strange choice as the song is often a set closer, it was nonetheless the appropriate choice. Adam Terrell played rhythm through the intro while fellow guitarist Joe Farrell popped short, sweet leads, and after the first verse, he cut loose with a rowdy, more fully developed line. As the tune continued, the energy level built quickly, so that at the mid-song drop, the crowd exploded and Adam unleashed his own slippery smooth solo. Adam, who joined the band last year, and who plays with Nate Wilson and John Lecesse as guitarist for the Assembly of Dust, is a stellar addition to the band; his laidback attitude, serious chops and genuine enthusiasm compliment Joe's playing expertly. As his solo climaxed, Nate leaned on his B-2, a huge smile on his face, and proceeded to push the band, the song, not to mention the audience, over the top. Percy Hill was on stage again!
Percy Hill has become something of a minor legend in the jam band world. Undisputed master songsmiths and instrumental virtuosi, the band rarely plays together, but every time they do, they pack houses and lay down dance grooves of epic proportions. Older fans clamor for more gigs, while the younger fans gravitate to the band just to see what the underground buzz is all about. Indeed, there is more than a sonic similarity with Steely Dan, and a Percy Hill show is not to be missed.
Continuing the peculiar song selection, Aaron took over vocals for Lap of Luxury, Adam initiating the tune with more slick rhythm work, and Joe busting out another great solo. Throughout the whole set Joe's tone was amazing- big and deep and more aggressive than usual. Aaron actually played before Percy Hill with his own unit, Aaron Katz Band, treating the assembled masses to his biting wit and finely crafted compositions. His present line-up is the strongest so far, with an enormous bass pocket, deft drumming and shrewd rhythm and leads from Josh Yost. In moving father away from Percy Hill's sound, AKB has actually tapped in to the ineffable vibe that makes PH so appealing, and their upcoming release, which features Russ Lawton (Trey Anastasio), should be highly anticipated.
The following triad of reggae/roots influenced tunes formed the heart of the set, appropriately chill for the relaxed attitude of the festival. Aaron's precise, sparse drumming led to Shining On Creation, a spectacular song taken to a new level by Adam's solo late in the song. Developing a distinct, yet fluid idea, he stretched the song beyond its boundaries, Joe, John and Nate singing the chorus over and over as Adam raced on, peaking, and peaking again, and then once more. The movement crumbled into John's bass breakdown, and Nate wasted no time in moving to the Moog, adding bubbles and colors and swells.
If Donald Fagan is one influence on Percy Hill's sound, and more particularly Aaron's songwriting, Paul Simon is another, and so it was only right that the sextet (Percy Hill alum Zach Wilson joined on percussion for the entire set) played a straight forward cover of Graceland, with Aaron playing his kit with his hands as he sang. For more reggae vibrations, Aaron stayed on vocals for the fan favorite Soggy Weather Skunk. While Nate had a short, searing solo sandwiched between verses, SWS always reaches its peak with the post-song free form jamlet; sometimes it's comprised of sharp rhythm clips, sometimes of lush piano runs, sometimes of rolling, tumbling drum fills. For this version, John immediately moved to his pedal spread, pulling out a rich, fuzzy sound, and as with Shining On, Nate slipped over to the Moog, while Zach attacked the congas. Feeding off each other, John went low, deeply low and loud, and Nate vamped higher and higher, creating a tsunami of sound on stage that garnered wild screams and cheers from the crowd. As the sounds dispersed, the band snaked into a new composition, a funky, stylish tune with an excellent, intoxicating bass line at its core. After the initial verses, the band climaxed, dropped low, and in true Percy Hill style, set the stage on fire with a final jam, Joe and Nate gunning in the sun, sending the crowd into a frenzy.
"I've been blinded by this ray of light."
It was a shame that the band had to cut their set short when the energy was so high, in front of a hometown crowd no less, for a too, too long set from the Samples. After all, with the aforementioned rarity of shows, every Percy Hill performance is golden, and no single set is ever enough.