Some guitar players – incredible guitar players – have made a career out of utilizing the Fender Telecaster’s legendary twang. Others have made history by exploring the sonic territory that lies beyond. Danny Gatton and Roy Buchanan come to mind – both unfortunately no longer with us.
But Jim Weider is.
Weider may be best known to some as the guy who held down the guitar berth in The Band post-Robbie Robertson. He was a member of Levon Helm’s Midnight Ramble Band for the last few years of the legendary drummer’s life and has helped to keep The Band’s family torch lit with various musical projects since. His instructional videos share a wealth of classic country blues and rockabilly picking, but there’s a whole side of Jim Weider’s playing that embraces the aforementioned beyond-Twangville territory. And his Project Percolator has become the vehicle of choice when it comes to going where no Telecaster has gone before.
With Weider at the helm, Project Percolator cruises with the mighty rhythm duo of drummer Rodney Holmes and bassist Steve Lucas tending the boiler. Here you have a duo capable of yin-yanging from a syrupy funk groove to an angular time-tumble in the middle of a jam – unfazed by detours to Bakersfield or Trenchtown along the way. Holmes is the epitome of a powerhouse drummer blessed with incredible taste and imagination and Lucas formation-flies with him like only a total beat brother can.
Beyond the core three, Project Percolator has featured some talented friends during its existence. Past adventurers include Mitch Stein (a longtime guitar foil for Steve Kimock) and Weider’s old Bandmate, keyboard wizard Garth Hudson. For Live (recorded last September at Olde Mistick Village Performing Arts Center in Mystic, CT) guitarist Avi Bortnick and multi-instrumentalist Jason Crosby join in the fun – and if that wasn’t enough, James Montgomery adds his fierce bluesman bellow and classic harp to the second half of the set. The result is a night jam-packed with jams à la Steve Kimock Band with a side order of blues that ranges from Stax-style cool (“Help Me” is total intergalactic Booker T. & The M.G.’s) to Fillmore West psychedelia (“Mona” – think Jeff Beck sits in with Quicksilver Messenger Service).
Weider’s original tunes (“The Maze”, “Percolator”, “Troll”, and “Squirrels In Paris”) are all built on solid grooves that leave the barn door wide open for improvisation, capitalizing on Percolator’s collective talents: time and time again the band pulls a smooth bootlegger turn in outer space and slams back into a given tune’s theme – just when you think they’ll never find their way home. Combining the eclectic virtuosity of Kimock’s various Friends lineups from over the years with downhome melodic sensibilities, Live is an example of Weider’s abilities not only as a guitarist, but a composer, arranger, and bandleader, as well. Bortnick adds a jazzbo point of view to Percolator’s sound; Crosby’s violin and keys provide depth and color.
You want jams, boys and girls? This is a total all-you-can-eat feast.
The evening culminates in an instrumental version of the classic Band tune “The Weight”. The opening moments seem innocent enough, as Weider lays down the immediately-recognizable opening riff – but it only takes 5 seconds for the thing to take an abrupt detour as Percolator slips neatly into a solid reggae skank. The verses are “sung” in turn by Weider, Montgomery, Bortnick, and Crosby on their respective instruments (Crosby manning the keys) before giving way to a killer bass workout by Lucas (including a cool volume knob excursion); there’s a passage of atmospheric guitar that leads into a meteor shower of licks, squeals, sizzles, and flashes; Holmes emerges from beneath it all with an end-of-the-world roll that springboards the band into a total flat-to-the-floor run to the finish … before tumbling (via a few moments of six-stringed whale noises coaxed through smoking-hot tube amps) back into the tune’s original ( the original) melody to close things out.
“Thanks so much for coming tonight,” Weider tells the wildly-applauding crowd. No, Jim – thank you for rolling tape on this one.
Brian Robbins makes whale noises over at www.brian-robbins.com