Review by J Hunter
Photographs by Rudy Lu
Nowadays, if you brought a set of killer instrumentals to your average record company, the first words out of the A&R troll’s mouth would be, “Where are the vocals?” But back in the day, stalwart souls like Jeff Beck, John McLaughlin and (to an extent) Carlos Santana used their razor-sharp axes to keep the world safe for people who were tired of hearing the same “Boy Meets Girl, etc.” lyrics for the thousandth Goddamn time! Jim Weider is a fellow axe-wielder from about the same generation, and Project Percolator’s incendiary show at The Egg’s Swyer Theatre showed he’s still fighting the good fight.
The opener “Flight” let us know that frills would not be on the menu this evening, as Weider and his regular partners – guitarist Avi Bortnick, bassist Steve Lucas and drummer Rodney Holmes – threw hot & nasty jazz-rock (with the emphasis on “rock”) right at our heads. Back in the day, Weider replaced Robbie Robertson in The Band, and he was certainly up to the task. There’s a delightful layer of fuzz on every lick and riff he plays, and the howling joy that runs through it all is that same motivator that makes you want to drive really fast and laugh for no apparent reason. By the end of that first number, you knew it was going to be a great night… and the guest of honor hadn’t even come onstage yet!
That guest was legendary Band keyboardist Garth Hudson, who joined Percolator for parts of both sets. When Hudson came out the first time, he looked like the hunch-backed, wild-haired crazy man in almost every Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western: He wore a long leather jacket with “Burrito Deluxe” written on the back in red script, and Hudson’s grey beard-flag stuck out from under a wide-brimmed black cowboy hat. It was a far cry from the trimmed, almost proper-looking gentleman who spoke so eloquently about jazz musicians in “The Last Waltz,” but that was (Take a deep breath…) nearly 40 years ago, so the Fashion Police will probably cut the man a break.
Hudson began both his segments in the clear, stitching together hymns and folk songs ranging from “Jerusalem” to “My Old Kentucky Home.” He worked the buttons on his Yamaha keyboard as he played, going from piano to Fender to organ to brass, even if it was only for just one measure. All of it sounded like riffs on Hudson’s Band showcase piece “Genetic Method”; in fact, a fast blast of church organ in his first segment made a lot of us think the group was going to tackle “Chest Fever,” the usual follow-up to “Genetic.” Instead, we got a reggae-licious take on “The Weight” with Weider and Bortnick joining Hudson in “singing” the verses instrumentally, and Holmes doing Levon Helm VERY proud! Holmes was simply a force throughout the show, evoking the memory of the late Tony Williams multiple times.
Other Band material showed up in both sets: A rowdy version of “Rag Mama Rag” and a pretty righteous take on “Caledonia Mission” that Weider informed us they hadn’t tried until the previous night’s show at The Falcon in Marlboro. (“This one’s for Rick, Levon and Richard,” Weider told us before “Caledonia,” name-checking the Band members no longer with us.) On both these tunes, and on a fairly faithful version of Bob Dylan’s “Just Like a Woman,” Hudson was definitely in his element. However, when thrown into Percolator originals like Weider’s “Man Cry” and Bortnick’s encore piece “Black Power,” Hudson was definitely a step behind, occasionally stopping to examine his buttons and obviously thinking, “What the fuck do I do NOW?” When he did catch up, though, he expanded Percolator’s sound very nicely. During Holmes’ towering drum solo on “Man Cry,” Hudson ran Holmes’ solo through his synthesizer, adding to the monstrous funk that was already there.
That synthesizer created a moment of levity in the first set. Just as someone in the crowd yelled, “We love you, Garth”, Hudson pressed a button that sent a blast of feedback shooting through the space. Hudson cut it off immediately, and any embarrassment was negated when someone else in the crowd yelled, “We STILL love you!” Hudson broke up laughing, and seemed ready to start the fun when he joined the quartet for the second set, loudly declaring, “Where’s my vocal mike?!”
With or without Hudson, Project Percolator is all about fun. The closest parallel to the time period mentioned in the first paragraph would be the Dixie Dregs, although Weider and Bortnick also evoked the Allman Brothers when they were harmonizing or countering. The group also sub-referenced Led Zeppelin’s “Heartbreaker” and Band of Gypsies’ “Who Knows,” getting laughs and cheers from those of us who were around when those tunes were first played. All in all, Jim Weider’s Project Percolator is doing the world a solid: They’re reminding us that kick-ass rock can get complicated and still survive, and it doesn’t need a vocalist to validate its existence.
Greg Haymes’ review at The Times Union (and some interesting comments, too…)
Tabitha Clancy’s review and photographs at Upstate Live
Excerpt from David Singer’s review at The Daily Gazette: “Jim Weider’s Project Percolator, a straight-up rock band that played The Band and Dylan ballads like high-end garage-rock, boiled several times over on Saturday night at the Egg’s Swyer Theater… They moved into a reggae feel of ‘The Weight,’ no vocals, the melodies handled easily and precisely with Weider’s guitar. They morphed into a straight rock feel, brought it to an expected crescendo, and ended with a reggae feel again. Then came ‘Just Like a Woman,’ a heartbreak of a song when done right. Weider nailed it, sounding a bit like John Scofield on the melody. Hudson colored the song with his tinkling fills. They followed with ‘Rag Mama Rag,’ pounding at it, teasing out subtle, hidden pieces of the song without losing its core, pushing it into a heavy rock number. Levon Helm might not have wanted to play it, but he would liked what they did to it.”
NOTE: Jim Weider will be among the performers for the Bob Dylan Birthday Celebration benefit concert at the Bearsville Theater in Woodstock at 8pm on Sunday (May 26).
PROJECT PERCOLATOR SET LIST
Squirrels in Paris
The Weight (the Band)
Just Like a Woman (Bob Dylan)
Rag Mama Rag (the Band)
Caledonia Mission (the Band)