On an unusually pleasant August night, Perpetual Groove returned to Raleigh’s Lincoln Theater for their second visit of 2012. With school not yet in session, the show was somewhat sparsely attended, but about 100 spirited fans still soaked up the band’s dependable jam-rock sounds and blazing light show. Given their penchant for limitless instrumental excursions and horizon-focused melodrama, the band has always made a living on the improv-hungry jam circuit. But they’ve penned a few undeniably catchy and dramatic rock songs in the second half of their 13 years together, and the lines of age have highlighted the shared wavelength of the band members. The result is a time-tested sound that shows maturity in pronounced, if brief, flashes of focus between their never-ending namesake grooves.
Balancing fist-pumping grandeur and dreamy atmospherics on the lengthy and well-traveled opener "Occam’s Blazer," the Georgia quartet then alternated between inspiring flights of fancy and concentrated rock moments without much singing to speak of. The band’s huge trove of cover tunes went untouched as they dove into diverse originals like "Sundog," which whipped into thick arena-rock lather before juicily transitioning into "Orange Wedge" and back again. The band thrives in the sonic space created by Brock Butler’s churning riffs and Matt McDonald’s burbling synths, the residual groans and hums of which are highly sought-after by the band. Butler has boosted his guitar sound, and it’s a lot bigger than in the relatively plinky days of old. Gloriously dark clouds of distortion and digital detritus hung over "Orange Wedge" and "Echo," the latter being one of the band’s most deliberately twirly and trippy tunes. Drummer Albert Suttle and bassist Adam Perry were afforded some space on "Echo," adding jazzy flourishes between Butler’s sunbursts of guitar.
First set closer "Paper Dolls," along with second set-starter "Cairo," found the band breaking out the sequencers and drum machines. "Cairo" is a sprawling tune that neatly illustrates the band’s everlasting obsession with combining new and old styles of songwriting, performance, and equipment. Pulsating electronics gave way to more spiraling guitar passages and unflappable rhythmic work. Old favorite "Stealy Man" surfaced to keep the cosmic atmosphere going, but it did so aimlessly and amongst a battery of more concise tunes. The relative downer "Fend For Your Life" was oddly placed after the crowd-pleasing "Cairo," and "Carry Me Home" (botched start and all) proved a simple, pandering bit that amounted to little more than a name-check for the state of Georgia. The raging, emotional "Violet Fang" went over much better; its triumphant, shoutable lyrics and anthemically enveloping music would have made for a great closer. Ultimately, the band chose to end the show with "Holy Ship" – a heartstring-pulling tune for sure, but not on the level of "Violet Fang." In Perpetual Groove’s case, yin and yang and the push and pull of old and new are ever-present when they’re on stage – and with them, bad and good. This tour-starting show encapsulated both the payoff and the cost of the veteran band’s musical idiosyncrasies.