The Band’s famed keyboardist Garth Hudson rarely performs in public these days, but joined Jim Weider’s Project Percolator for two special shows at New York’s Iridium Jazz Club. As Weider replaced Robbie Robertson in latter day incarnations of The Band and more recently served as a member of the Levon Helm Band, he and Hudson have a rich musical history together. But Weider’s Project Percolator, an immensely talented band that includes Avi Bortnick on rhythm guitar, Jason Crosby on keyboards and fiddle, Steve Lucas on bass and Rodney Holmes on drums, plays a wildly different style of music than The Band did. Though Weider and Hudson have played together for thirty years, it was a treat to hear the pair in a brand new setting, playing material that leaned towards jazz fusion with a snarling rock and roll edge.
As Project Percolator took the stage without Hudson, Weider announced that Garth was running late but would be arriving at the venue shortly, and launched into funky instrumental “Squirrels in Paris,” powered by Rodney Holmes’ drumming and Weider’s near-metal heavy riffs and solos. Towards the end of the song, Garth arrived and jumped in mid jam. Hudson, who was intensely trained as a classical musician before his days with The Band, immediately displayed his ability to leap into music of any style and fit right in. Despite The Band’s general musical conciseness, Hudson seemed fully at ease with Weider’s ambitious, exploratory compositions that all stretched well over the ten minute mark.
The band’s second song of the night, a Weider original titled “Percolator” gave Hudson his first moments in the spotlight, and his two solos proved that his fingers and creative spark have yet to slow despite his age. Weider and second guitarist Avi Bortnick then traded solos in a dizzying jam that culminated in the familiar riff of Led Zeppelin’s “Heartbreaker.” Rodney Holmes’ Project Percolator original “Broken Glass” was another highlight, and featured piercing Weider shredding as well as remarkable drumming from Holmes. Holmes, previously a member of Steve Kimock Band, combines explosive, precise technical skill with a tremendous ability to steer the band through creative jams, making him one of the most talented and interesting drummers in the live music world and a perfect match for Weider’s guitar playing.
The entire band then left the stage sans Hudson, who mesmerized the crowd with a solo improvised segment. Reminiscent of his “Genetic Method” intro of “Chest Fever” during The Band days, Garth took the audience on an adventurous tour of his mad musical genius. As he finished up, the rest of the band rejoined and Weider launched straight into “The Weight.” Performed as a funky instrumental with a touch of reggae, the band members took turns reinterpreting each verse with their instruments. Somewhere along the line, “The Weight” launched into outer space, as the band moved into a wild jam that found old friends Weider and Hudson trading sharp licks over raunchy rock and roll.
After a tender reading of Bob Dylan’s “Just Like A Woman,” they closed the show with another Band classic, “Rag Mama Rag.” Featuring Jason Crosby on fiddle and performed at a manic, barnburning tempo, “Rag Mama Rag” found the band playing the kind of high energy rock and roll that Garth first performed with Ronnie Hawkins in The Band’s early days. Backed by the tight groove of Project Percolator, Weider and Hudson displayed awe-inspiring mastery of their instruments and American music as they loosely jammed their way through jazz, blues, funk and rockabilly.