Straying from the norm, an instrumental performance of jazz, blues and hard rock might be difficult to pull off successfully if your name wasn’t Jim Weider, but for a man with a resume longer than some of us have been alive, he has the know-how and talent to accomplish such a feat. The intimate Swyer Theater at The Egg in Albany housed the axe-wielding artist and his all-star cast in a mid-spring fling. Weider presented songs uniquely fashioned by way of a lifetime of influences and study culminating into two sets of musical conversation.
Project Percolator is the brainchild of Weider’s imagination and artistry. He created a band that breaks common musical expectations – especially since he is widely known for his tenure with The Band. The core of the group includes: Rodney Holmes (Santana) on drums, Avi Bortnick (John Scofield) on rhythm guitar and Steve Lucas (Bruce Cockburn) on bass. Together the four stretch out, noodle, pound and thump to a point where they aren’t just playing a show, they are experiencing it right along with the crowd.
The first set began with the foursome showcasing their skill level; it only took halfway through one song before the crowd was completely absorbed in the music. Holmes introduced “Squirrels in Paris,” on drums, but he quickly handed the song over to Weider and his Telecaster guitar. His fingers glided along the fingerboard where ultimately he landed on the high notes, hitting the sweet spot that screams rock and roll fun. Indeed, this was a heavy rock song complete with multiple and smooth change-ups rounding out in conclusion the way it began – on drums. Weider, et al. used their instruments to capture the essence of story telling among old pals full of personality, inviting the captivated audience to listen to their banter.
And just like each song molded and changed with twists and turns, the set took a turn too; Weider welcomed long-time friend and colleague, Garth Hudson to the stage. If these guys were characters in a book, then Hudson was the playful imp bringing that same quirkiness to Project Percolator that he had in The Band. Continuing with the conversation, Weider stepped aside humbly and joyously listened as his buddy told another story. Hudson’s beard was as white as the keys on the board in front of him. A wide-brimmed hat mostly hid him, but even still, his jolly soul shined. And he brought the comedy utilizing his instrument as a tool for his humor. Hudson did his own thing for a little while, playing as if he were sitting in his own living room. The group expectedly joined together for a reggae rendition of “The Weight.” They veered into a groove that changed the direction of the conversation. Each one took a turn and a crescendo swerved the song into yet another dimension until there was an abrupt stop, then the jam concluded with the last few bars of the same familiar song. Surely there is not any arrangement of this song quite like Weider’s presentation. Project Percolator moved through Dylan’s, “Just Like a Woman,” and then to another Band song, “Rag Mama Rag.” The quintet told a familiar tale, but dazzled the crowd, offering up a new point of view, a convincing new perspective on a batch of old songs. It’s as though we’re watching the guys reminisce of the good old days – and what fun those days must have been!
After a short intermission, the core four reentered ready to tickle our fancies once again. A Weider original, “Pulse” opened set two – a set that contained similar elements of structured instrumentals leaving room for weaving and stretching. Hudson then once again joined Project Percolator. Quietly and respectfully, the band watched and listened, as they too became the riveted audience, as Hudson took his opportunity to solo and the freedom moved him through a multitude of familiar, traditional folk tunes. Part reunion and part nostalgia, it was fitting Weider dedicated “Caledonia Mission” (The Band) to his former band mates that have passed. Weider closed out the set with “Man Cry,” in a song that winds down a path leaving no stone unturned. One by one each member stepped off stage, leaving the musical discoveries up to those that remained.
In spite of Project Percolator’s rock and roll appearance, there was something rather sweet and humbling; this is not an in-your-face-I-play-the-guitar rock fest. Rather, it was a no frills invitation into the lives of people who simply love their craft. The instruments spoke for themselves as their masters allowed the creativity to flow, sharing their point of view so that we might understand more of the story. Jim Weider ‘shreds’ a new light.