At any given moment, three-quarters of the Perpetual Grooves’ eyes are shut. They jam like nobody’s watching, sometimes with their asses to the audience. You feel like you’re sneaking a glance through a studio’s window, a studio with a passion for light shows.
Late on Tuesday night, the Savannah, Georgia-based band’s rhythms rocked the Howlin’ Wolf and the CBD. In addition to their new harmony-heavy songs, they spiced up their set with a well-received cover of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.” During that song, redheaded guitarist Brock Butler’s nasal, piercing vocals broke the suspicion that the audience was crashing a jam session and began to draw in the loosely-packed crowd.
However, the first three songs were emblematic of the harmonies that the band’s recent recordings have sought to perfect. Recently, the band has bristled at producing simpler party tracks, preferring to concentrate on more complex melodies and deeper harmonies with an emphasis on the word concentration. The bandmembers literally close their eyes while they focus, tuning out the audience while they meander the stage.
At one point during their third song, “Da Way,” Butler turned away from the audience and fiddled with his guitar. He removed the guitar, had second thoughts and put it back on, then began playing a black keyboard while his guitar still hanging from his shoulder. He’s used four different instruments in three songs. He messed with some knobs. Satisfied, he returned to his respective corner and faces the audience.
Adam Perry inhabited the center stage, a vocally absent bass player who focused on creating a deep bassline. He wore in a black button-up with the top two buttons undone, his bangs creating a dramatic silhouette in the lights. During “Da Way,” he turned away. A dark baseball cap and drum kit hid the face of drummer Albert Suttle.
John Hruby, the band’s newest addition, was the only one that the audience could clearly see. Tall and lanky, he commanded the keyboard with a strong stage presence. His face twisted with various tempos, sometimes closing his eyes and rolling his head back like Stevie Wonder, or squinting at the keys with his mouth half open like a nerd on a Playstation. While Hruby has worked with hip-hop artists like Ciara, Ludacris and the Ying-Yang Twins, his uninhibited presence during a groove lends itself to jam-band rock. He played with the keys, sometimes adding small, short arrangements that add to the groove’s experimental theme.
During that third song, they hit their groove. Perry and Butler returned to the front of the stage. The band’s superior light settings bathed their faces in indigos and yellows, creating textured silhouettes. Butler leaned into his mike and his unmistakable vocals flavored the song, growling then emitting an apelike cry that was somehow reminiscent of Beaker from the Muppet Show.
The size of the crowd was unusually small for a Perpetual Groove concert, which usually packs Tipitina’s. However, judging by the band’s new invigoration from Hruby and the quality of their recent recording, the crowd size had more to do with the night than the band.
Surveying the loosely-packed crowd, there wasn’t much that the audience had in common besides a free Tuesday night to see Perpetual Groove at the Howlin’ Wolf. A couple in their early fifties or late forties, decked in dark-colored denim shirts, bobbed their gray-haired heads to the rhythms. Nearby, discombobulated dread-locked woman rocking cowboy boots danced like Seinfeld’s Elaine, twisting her elbows and knees with no discernible concern for the beat. A young man with a shaved head made obscene gestures with his hand and cheek while he bent to the groove. Frat boys in polo shirts gathered in the wings, most absent-mindedly nodding their heads—except for the drunkest one, a towhead in a pink shirt who bowed his legs and dipped low with a look of pure admiration fixated on Adam Perry. A crinkled Elmo helium balloon grinned down from the Howlin’ Wolf’s grime-colored rafters, its silver lining reflecting the colored lights like a disco ball.