If many bands play a set of songs that only occasionally jam out, Perpetual Groove flips the formula with a focus on jams that only occasionally morph into songs. The effect is one of musical catharsis.
Tucked down an alleyway next to a Toys R Us, Moe’s Alley is one of the West Coast’s great intimate venues. A show here is akin to a small house party, the concert area resembling a large living room complete with a bar on the side and an adjacent patio. The outdoor area features cheery Christmas lights, heat lamps, and a partial view of the stage. On this night, it also features a spectacular view of the full moon, which has, earlier in the evening, gone through a total eclipse. The lunar eclipse seems to have left a strong metaphysical vibe in the air as Georgia’s Perpetual Groove launches a long-awaited West Coast tour. Pgroove, as they’re known amongst fans, have a strong following in their native Southeast region but still fly under the radar out west, probably because they rarely venture to the Golden State. The crowd is a bit sparse for what is presumably a warm-up gig for the following night’s show in San Francisco, but the intimate setting provides the uncommon opportunity to see some stellar musicianship up close and personal. As the band’s name suggests, Perpetual Groove is primarily about the jams. The group's catchier hooks and more emotionally stirring vocals typically take a backseat to exploratory “trance arena-rock” improv. If many bands play a set of songs that only occasionally jam out, Pgroove flips the formula with a focus on jams that only occasionally morph into songs. The effect is one of musical catharsis. Guitarist/vocalist Brock Butler is a virtuoso, delivering dazzling fretwork throughout the night while also conjuring some deep-bluesy vibes from the laptop guitar set up by his side. Keyboardist Matt McDonald paints a strong and diverse sonic palette throughout the evening, taking a big role in shaping the band’s sound. With a setup that combines great vintage sounds with the latest modern twists, McDonald is a force to be reckoned with. Bassist Adam Perry and drummer Albert Suttle both deliver progressive chops that help push each song to its limits. Together, the four members produce a sound that is greater than the sum of its parts. One tune begins with a spacey vibe only to transform into a rocker via some dynamic changes. Another sees Butler loop some guitar lines and play other trippy sounds on top, enabling the band’s sound to grow even fuller. McDonald leads the way on a strong prog-rock jam that recalls classic artists such as Yes and ELP, particularly with the vintage synth sounds. The band must feel some need to deliver a big ending to their first set, which they do with a stellar cover of KC and the Sunshine Band’s funk classic “Get Down Tonight”. While Butler’s vocals get the crowd rocking, Perry steps it up significantly with a strong attack on the song’s low end. The band adds its own twist by using the song as a launch pad into an extended space voyage that KC could only dream of. Any fan with the desire to talk up a band member can easily do so at the break, as the four musicians approach the bar for libations just like everyone else. But the conversations have to move fast: only fifteen minutes later, the band is back onstage kicking out the jams again. One memorable moment sees Butler recalling his wish to breathe underwater, augmented by the band's invocation of Atlantean images with watery keyboards and psychedelic guitar. The song morphs into a rocking jam that’s edgy, yet trance-jammy too, recalling bands like Particle and Sound Tribe Sector Nine. Another song features a vocal melody that ventures into a Talking Heads, “Once in a Lifetime” vibe, with Butler singing about finding himself in “some kind of hell.” He must have made it back from that Hades, though, because the tune quickly transforms into another melodic groove propelled by more stellar synth work. There are plenty more triumphant jams: a couple of tunes in particular seem to blend a Phishy arena rock sound with more of a Disco Biscuits-style trance-club vibe. The band forgoes leaving the stage before the encore and launches right into “Save for One”, one of the strongest tunes from their latest album, Livelovedie. The song provides a perfect capper to the evening as Butler sings, “Well, my friends, I hope we can say before we go, that we strolled, head held high and we gave one hell of a show.” The song’s catchy “oh-whoa-whoa” vocal hook grabs the ear in a way that suggests Butler and company could write radio rock hits if they wanted to. But they’re clearly having too much fun being a jamband to go down that alley -- and we’re having too much fun with the jams.