For nearly a decade, Athens-based quartet Perpetual Groove has been spreading their blissed-out jam rock across the country. They usually hit Charleston at least once a year, and I've seen them at least five times here. Their Friday night show at the Music Farm was the second of the year, following a sold-out performance in January.
The crowd — a typical mix of wide-eyed jamheads and college-age booze hounds — slowly filled the front of the house (the back remained fairly sparse) as the band took the stage.
"Space Paranoids" began slowly as the band adjusted to the cavernous room, which has the tendency to blur the sound, particularly at high volumes. After a few meandering minutes, guitarist Brock Butler stepped on the gas, launching the band into the band's trademark stratospheric jazz-rock jam. New song "Downside" provided the first showcase for recent addition John Hruby, former keyboardist with Ohio trance-jam outfit Guest. Though the piano was too low in the mix, Hruby capably ranged across multiple keyboards and other electronic toys, hamming it up for the eager crowd with synthy '80s flair and a near perma-grin.
The funky opening to "You and Yours" belied a fairly tame rendition, but Hruby again asserted himself with some nifty keyboard work. He also locked in tight with bassist Adam Perry, who frequently joined Hruby in his stage antics — though Perry favors a more laid-back approach, slinking in and out of the groove and punctuating certain highs by raising his axe skyward, Excalibur-style.
As the smoky space dissipated, Butler dropped into a P-Groove cover staple, Peter Gabriel's "Sledgehammer," which they drew out in stylish fashion, extending the energy of the original to new levels and capping it with an escalating funk-rock jam. The electricity carried directly into "Fifty-Three Things to Do in Zero Gravity," and the band navigated faithfully through the main arrangement before building to majestic heights. Though the song may have stayed on cloud nine a bit too long, it served as a prime example of the considerable sonic force that P-Groove can attain.
"Three Weeks" is always a fan favorite, and the band pleasingly extended the opening sequence before the first verse, building anticipation and stirring the crowd into a frenzy. As usual, Butler spun out some nimble, bouncy guitar licks, but the muddy sound rounded the edges on many of them. He seemed to realize it, though, and jumped on the lap steel to lead the band through the closing jam. The multiple climaxes ripped open the tension-and-release framework, leaving the fist-pumping, finger-waving crowd — myself included — to whirl and spin to seemingly no end.