I predict there’s going to be way too much time and effort spent comparing the latest evolution of Perpetual Groove’s sound (well-crafted songs loaded with hooks and emotion) to the PGroove of yesterday (rolling, tumbling, spiraling jams) when there’s a MUCH BIGGER issue at hand here.
That’s right: the Who at the Super Bowl.
I mean, here I am, wanting to liken the vibe of Perpetual Groove’s Heal at times to The Who’s Quadrophenia. But if I make any sort of mention of The Who – any at all – the only thing you’re going to be able to think about is the vision of Pete Townshend lurching around the stage during the halftime show the other day, looking like your Uncle Ned that time he showed up drunk on Halloween thinking he was a dead ringer for rapper D.M.C.
(Note to Pete: I spent my senior year of high school with my knuckles covered in scabs because of you, buddy. Windmills were my life. Now it’s almost 35 years later. You at least gotta keep your stomach covered up.)
But I digress.
The first Quadrophenia flash on Heal happened for me at the 0:45 second mark of “No Decorations,” the opening cut. Prior to that moment, Albert Suttle’s drums and Adam Perry’s bass do a tail-chasing tilt-a-whirl with Brock Butler’s guitar (you know – that PGroove thing). All of a sudden, though, the spiral fetches up and Butler lays into the opening line, “Opened up my eyes to look …” And there – right there – with the swoop of Perry’s bass offset by the gentlest of flutters from John Hruby’s keys (while Suttle pounds his way back into the main riff), you suddenly realize that, yes: 2007’s LIVELOVEDIE wasn’t just a phase. Perpetual Groove have dropped their tails, risen onto their hind legs and become … a goddamn rock ‘n’ roll band. Well, alright! By the time you’re a minute and a half in, you’re looking for a lighter to hold in the air during the chorus. But about the time that you think it might turn into a wham-bam no-brainer, the boys nail you in the chops with a moment of startling silence. Followed by two beats of full-band thrash. Then silence (not even the slightest cymbal sizzle). All hands take a long breath, punctuated by Suttle going into a (Keith Moon!) crazed roll that you’d swear was going to take him right out through the wall, but – SILENCE! Then:
Dubbadubbadubbadubbadubbadubbadubbadubbadubbbadubba and they’re off, tearing into a heart-tugging, cymbal-crashing finale that ends with Butler’s shrugging, “It always turned out wrong.” Wipe your eyes and catch your breath – that’s only the first cut.
Don’t fret about the classic rock comparisons, though; just when you fear that the heroes of organic sonic swirls are morphing into U2 in flannel shirts (the first four minutes and 18 seconds of “Downside”), they let the groovemonster out of the box and lay it down all thick and gooey and sweet (the final two minutes and 53 seconds of “Downside”).
Heal is the band’s first studio offering with keyboardist John Hruby onboard and he proves to be a perfect fit, contributing everything from subtle tickles to broad brushfuls of sound texture. Drummer Suttle is absolutely brilliant and fearless throughout the album, as well. After the dozenth or so time that I thought, “Oh, God – he’ll never get out of this drum roll alive,” I accepted the fact that the guy is probably just a frigging genius and stopped worrying about him.
There are all kinds of “Wait a minute …” double-take moments throughout Heal: for instance, “Under Lock and Key” is what it would sound like if John Prine sat in with Phish. (Speaking of Phish, dig the opening chaotic majesty of “A Day the Way” as Hruby, Perry, and Suttle announce the arrival of Butler’s crunchy guitar – “Prince Caspian” lives!) (And speaking of Phish again, fast forward to the five-minute mark of “Up Again,” soak up the relentless drums beneath the cascading piano, happy giant bass, and soaring guitar and say to yourself, “Wow – this is the best “Harry Hood” jam I’ve ever heard.”) And for those who hanker for some classic PGroove undulating instrumental sound pudding, have a bowlful of “Honey Cut” and be happy.
Heal is the sound of Perpetual Groove maturing as a band, blessed with the knowledge that if you build the songs, the jams will come.
At this rate, they’re going to make a hell of a halftime act at Super Bowl LXXIX.