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Published: 2005/03/24
by Jeremy Sanchez

Particle & Cyro Baptista and Beat the Donkey, The NorVa Theater, Norfolk VA- 3/5

Need a raucous and fun opening band and think you have what it takes to follow them up? Contact Cyro Baptista and Beat the Donkey. Set up your living room with anything that'll take a knocking (pots, kitchen sink, a fire hydrant) and his percussionists will find a beat to make you beam. Throw in an electric guitarist with a mean slide, a zany keyboard player who'll blow your night away on his melodica and Cyro Baptista on his megaphone yelling in your face in a language you probably can't understand and it's a party. When he speaks English, his Brazilian accent is so thick, he may as well be speaking any other language, good times! It's a good thing Particle was following up the fireworks. All of Particle, minus Charlie Hitchcock, came out during the opening set and joined in on a funky tribute song from Baptista, entitled "Los Particulas." Note: stay away from the front of the stage when Baptista grabs his high-school coach's whistle, or you're due to catch his whistle spit on your lip. You're warned.

I discovered tonight that, although I don't get all worked up over Particle's studio efforts, their live approach is too fun and thoughtful to ignore; I'm a new fan.

They took over Norfolk, VA's NorVa Theater (first time there) with abandon countered only by their dance-sweaty audience. Keyboardist Steve Molitz, a few songs into the first set, commented that Cyro Baptista had warned him of the great times to be had at the NorVa. Baptista played a bar on the street running parallel to the NorVa, at its rear, a few months ago. The prediction of excellence bore fruit.

Close-up of lunging ice fractals: Charlie Hitchcock's guitar sang a slothy southern twang until Molitz's dancing fingers (hell, he dances and twists as much as anyone in the crowd) nudged "Triple Threat" up to club speed. While Hitchcock and Molitz braided with one another, drummer Darren Pujalet and bassist Eric Gould lay a meaty backbone (this is stew, not soup) any improvisational musician could stay with. As trance rhythms are sapped out by Gould and Molitz, pulled taffy tight, the aesthetics planted by the ambidextrous Molitz and the evidently Hendrix, Pink Floyd, etc…-knowledgeable Hitchcock is colorful enough to creep along at grandpa paces and gouge through the highest gears, without boredom ever becoming an issue.

"King Hassan" edged on with an early strike, a Molitz and Gould grind. The Molitz (I mentioned ambidextrous) and Hitchcock harmonies were elegant, while brash. "Mind Over Matter" took a Doors-esque chill pill, "The Elevator" morphed from Hitchcock's Egyptian melody (nice evolution) and when Gould saw a chance to un-corral, he did with fury. Here Molitz said that, being their first time in town, it was "amazing, overwhelming, just so fucking beautiful." "Last Child" smelled funky and exploded like a piniata while "Kneeknocker" actually looked like a popped piniata when Baptista and his troupe came out to add their percussive flares. I say shit like this a lot, here's another chance I guess…This is the best set uno closer I've experienced, keep em dancin' on the way to the pisser I say.

"Ed and Molly" jarred set two with a deceitfully slow intro that shed into requisite dance form, Pujalet's tom patterns were cavernous (replete with stalagmites and -tites). Molitz appears in a constant state of full-body self-conduction and if that's what it takes to imagine and create the way he can, may he continue to contort. "The Banker" sugar-rushed into the living dub known as "W," making Dub is a Weapon (STS9's opener the week before) seem like a splinter in retrospect > a new track called "Eye of the Storm," where I accepted that Hitchcock is a creative mixture of influences but still worthy of being used as a stylistic comparison in his own right. Fans got a quick tease ("Sweet Home Alabama") from him right after "Eye of the Storm"...know his audience, he seems to.

Molitz said that "Zia" is "about the cycle of the day": OK, so I usually try for more descriptive conclusions, but "WOW" suits "Zia" perfectly. The simple organic bass line milks a trickle from the compadres and the cycles begin. Time advances in a linear fashion, while also cycling daily, seasonally, or however else you may wish to break your existence apart. Sounding like what I've described, "Zia" is upwardly mobile and of course pops, but the trip is a remarkable cycle of melodies, grooves and their associated harmonies. It's a gift to be able to make such non-assuming music hold attention, but mine was Particle's for the moment and I forgot my worries. Isn't that more than you can ask of any band? I'll take it. Their influences blister up sometimes: "Wharf Rat's" (G-Dead) whiskers tickled Molitz's fancy to tease during the wispy dramatic solo, ending "Zia" and set two.

"Loose Caboose" was a bass-backed jiving encore that sent us to our cars dancing and wanting to go back in (Hell no NorVa security won't let you back in, even if you forgot your kid or something important like getting that taper's email address). "Thanks, we'll see ya soon," said Molitz…little did he know at the time.

Luckily, the music gods smiled VA's way because two nights later semi-Particle sort-of showed up again, unannounced until the day of the show, as Off the Radar (Particle minus Gould) and played for 200 or so people at a small bar called Jewish Mother in Va Beach. The show was made official the night before and announced on the day of (an official day off for Particle), quite a fiscal risk, what a show, but that's another review…at least we know they love us as much as we love them.

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