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The Loop

Published: 2011/07/14
by Dan Alford

Percy Hill at Wetlands- 7/6/2001

A look back at Dan Alford’s Percy Hill review which originally ran ten years ago on the site…

Set I: 313, Soul Sister, The Now, Shining On Creation
> Open Up > Burning Down the House > Ammonium Maze
Set II: Pedal Space > Jasper, Make Believe, Been So
Long, After All, Soggy Weather Skunk, Beneath the
Cover, Slave

E: Rush Hour Traffic

It is only appropriate that some of the first lyrics
of Percy's set were "seems like ages since I've been
away." Percy Hill was in the City for the first show
since 12-30-00, the blizzard show, and New Yorkers
welcomed the quartet back with open arms. So warmly
were they welcomed, in fact, that the Sweatglands
lived up to its name for the first time in recent
memory. The joint was packed, reaping the rewards of
a co-billing with Rana. The New Jersey band has its
loyalists, although this was only my second experience
with them.

Whispered voice: "So, these guys are all over the
place."

It wasn't a lack of cohesion among the performers that
prompted the voice, but the awkward juxtaposition of
styles. The band's influences clearly included The
Band, Talking Heads and Black Sabbath, and rather than
try to meld the styles, each song drew primarily from
one source. The result was an oddly textured set, to
say the least.

But by the time Percy's set started, those lingering
in the hazy lounge had climbed the stairs, and the
audience stretched to the door. The band was all
smiles. 313 opened up with a smooth intro, as Nate
toyed around on the Moog. The song seemed in contrast
with much of Rana's set, but the tight lacing of Joe's
and Nate's sounds swept up the mood, polished it and
dropped it back on the crowd.

Aaron took lead vocal duties on Soul Sister, which is
sung more often by Joe. When Aaron's in control, the
song is generally faster, and this version did not
buck the trend. Joe slid in with a cool riff before
"the acid takes control", and John moved to his synth
pedals with intention. The segment was somewhat
short, but when John returned to his bass, it was loud
and energetic, and the tone of the night solidified.
Aaron also worked the lead vocals on The Now, which is
also more often a Joe song. But that's not half as
interesting as the fact that Nate played his clavinet
on the intro. Of course we had all seen it on stage,
supporting the Moog, but when the sound hit it was
surprising nonetheless, and wonderful. John jumped
back to the pedals for that grinding jam-funk sound
and Aaron started the intro vocals that have become
standard over the past few months. After the third
"We are here in the now," John pounded back to the
bass and the song took off. The vocals were good, but
I prefer Joe on this tune. However, Joe took
advantage of the freedom by adding lots of little
clips and sharp leads. The jam headed into techno
territory, a move that is always defined by Aaron
locking up on the drums. John added to the vibe with
more pedal work as Joe grabbed a theme of three
descending notes- a smooth mixture. The end featured
a killer solo from Joe, with Aaron swinging in from
all directions, including adding more extra vocals.
The song ended, and the guys were all laughing and
looking at one another.

The real beast, though, and in fact the highlight of
the show, was the massive jam that closed the set.
Shining On Creation is simply a great song. A unique
style of reggae influenced sounds form this biblical
song. The passionate inflection of Joe's vocals
worked to round out the song. Aaron's percussive
prowess allowed him to creep into the mix from
different angles with cymbals and rim-shots. Nate
flashed a very short, but very tight pairing of B-2
and Kawai piano. As the end segment began, I fondly
remembered the exceptional Shining On > Exodus from
4-15-00 at the Wetlands. But that was nothing
compared to the absolutely seamless transition into
Open Up. It seemed like Aaron simply used a gentler,
slightly quicker hand on his kit, and they were into
the aptly titled techno instrumental. Soon after the
tag line, John and Aaron changed the pace and sweet
traveling music leaked from the stage. Glimpses of
new territory passed before eager ears, but a monster
Moog solo dominated the soundscape. The tag
eventually returned, and as the song winded down, John
lightly pushed to keep the music going. Aaron lent
his support quickly, and haunting playing from Nate
rose before long. Finally Joe joined, and
effortlessly, the band fell into Burning Down the
House. Funky clav and still more Moog accentuated
Aaron's jungle drums, and the jam was molasses thick.
Like most Percy covers, it was not lengthy, but the
song finished with the third flawless transition, this
time into Ammonium Maze. The crowd erupted with
approval and Joe staggered back laughing. This was
Happening, and everybody knew it. The collective
energy was channeled into the song, Aaron giving new
personality to the lyrics and Nate rolling out a great
organ solo. This version was straight ahead, keeping
the electricity flowing, and differing from other
recent versions that have wandered far and wide
through the center.

The eager crowd was clapping and stomping, trying to
draw the band out from backstage for a second set,
when John mounted the stage and headed right for the
pedals. Padding and prodding, he squeezed out loud,
grinding beats while the rest of the band ambled on
stage. They whipped up the groove into a powerful
Jasper. The long jam was harsh and heavy-handed to
start, but cleaned up as it climaxed with a red buzz
and lightning fingers from Joe.

The tale of Jasper's tortured soul was the first of
the alienation songs that pervaded the set. The
second was Make Believe, the love song of a
wallflower. Nate was really enjoying this tune,
grinning straight through and giving a cool twist to
his solo. The third outsider of the set was the drunk
from Been So Long, a tune that has eluded me for two
years. The intro was very short, but improvisational
section stretched the song to about 20 minutes. A
classic version.

Nate's newest song, After All, was followed by Soggy
Weather Skunk, placating one avid fan. This tune was
made for the clavinet, and Nate worked the mellow
vibe, mixing well with Aaron's loose drumming. Joe
played aggressive rhythm and sporadic sproings that
didn't quite gel at first, but eventually the sounds
coalesced for a fine finish.

Beneath the Cover was excellent, just right, and Slave
was fun but relatively relaxed for a show closer.
Nate announced that the encore would be Aubade, but
Aaron called Rush Hour Traffic, and started the intro
post-haste. Nate rolled with the tune as a hectic jam
came together and dropped down to just the Moog.
Aaron leaned up to his microphone, lightly singing
"chika-chika-chika-chika-chika". John pounced on the
pedals and the jam picked up again. Nate eased down
the music to do intros, and the whole band slid into a
great finale- the last great transition in a night of
great transitions. The band is clearly benefiting
from the extra shows this summer, gaining vitality and
precision with each performance. They are also
gaining new fans. There was a guy at this show who
was so excited by what he heard that he would lean
right over Nate's keys, and then run around in circles
to blow off the excess voltage. That sort of
excitement is great to see regardless of the band, but
it's particularly nice when the band is Percy Hill.

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