Previous years have been devoted solely to Perpetual Groove music, which is a feast for the PGroove junkie. They switched things up a bit this year.
A brief history: Amberland 2008 was PGroove’s last show with keyboardist Matt McDonald. There were a bunch of sit-ins and side project action last year involving highly talented keyboardist, singer, harmonizer, and songwriter John Hruby. John Hruby had been playing in an Athens, OH based band called Guest, and was doing side-project work with PGroove’s Brock Butler and Adam Perry in a band called The Ruins. This year, John Hruby was on stage all weekend as a full-fledged member of Perpetual Groove. Hruby made his first appearance Friday for two sets with his former band members of Guest, and then Saturday and Sunday for a ton of PGroove. PGroove never disappoints when it comes to giving me a music fill at Amberland. Generally we get three sets Saturday and three sets Sunday, but this year we got some other bonuses too.
Friday evening brought two electrifying Guest sets whose sole studio album, Entrance, is truly top notch. Following Guest’s sets, we got to put on headphones and collectively hear PGroove’s new album. The band members stuck around cracking up as we all sang along with the tunes we were familiar with, and we got to preview the long-awaited studio production that is the first with John Hruby. It is soulful, melancholy, technically precise, and beautiful. I absolutely cannot wait to have a copy of this in my hands! Official release date is still being determined.
Saturday afternoon was Perpetual Groove’s first slot onstage, moving from the smaller tent-covered stage in the high field from Friday to the bigger stage surrounded by the warmth of trees and rays of sporadic sunlight. We were treated to the much requested original mind-melter, Crowded Tub, and a rare full-band cover of Van Morrison’s Tupelo Honey. Two of the steamiest band originals closed out the 3-5pm set, Two Shores and The Noise. Two Shores debuted in the live arena in May of 2006 and showed up on the May 2008 album release, LiveLoveDie. Oddly, one of the band’s most raging originals, The Noise, did not make the cut of this year’s album release, but three never-played-live songs did make the cut.
The second set that the band played on Saturday was a live presentation of the new album. At this time it is said to be untitled, and some hard hitting show favorites made it on there including “Lost Connection,” “Too Close to the Sun,” and “No Decorations.” Saturday’s third Perpetual Groove set was themed Eighties Night, and the costumes and music were outrageous and hilarious. One of my favorite attributes of this band is their ability to recreate cover songs. The outcome is always clean-sounding magic. We got to witness great versions of The Globe, Your Love, Money for Nothing, and Take On Me, interspersed throughout standard PGroove fare of Mayday, Walking in Place, Stealy Man and the ever crowd rage fest, Mr. Transistor. One of their tunes from this set, Three Weeks, has been played live since the band’s incarnation in 2001. I expected to see the old songs lose steam and get put on a shelf, but Three Weeks has instead been gaining energy throughout the years. Not only is it a crowd favorite for the sing along quality, but the jams has simply become monsters. Free Ride to the Show is another older tune, and is musically playful and treasured by the avid show-goer with delivered lyrics of, “I’ve got me no shoes on my feet, that is the source of all my woes, they gave me food and bed for some weeks, I also scored me a ride to the show.”
The fourth set of Saturday ran from about 2:30 to 4:45 am on the small stage under the tent in the upper field with headphones. Don’t forget to set your alarms for this one, kids. The band isn’t going to wake you if you crash for some shuteye post-third set. Unfortunately too, this set wasn’t able to be recorded. We are infinitely lucky to have a few dedicated tapers that attend most of Pgroove’s shows, who then put the music up on the Archive.org. Set IV: Mota, Sunshine Underground, Praise You>Riders on the Storm>The End> Praise You, Can You Get To That >Don’t Come Around Here No More > We Don’t Care, Jam in E, Echo, Golden Path.
While Saturday’s musical festivities closed out around 5 am, Sunday’s started close on its heels at 10am with Brock Butler’s acoustic set. Band members from Georgia band Under the Porch made appearances, along with Brian Revercomb on guitar. It was a warm, relaxing morning with everyone in good spirits and the expected amusing banter from The Reverend Choppin’ Brockly (Butler) filled the space between musical alchemy.
Sunday’s first full-band set opened with a beautiful La Casa Bien, moving into positive Savannah energy of All This Everything pt. 1 and the musically savvy Space Paranoids. We got treated to a tune that hasn’t gotten much stage-play lately but is an old favorite, TSMM, of which the meaning of the abbreviation is still up for fun debate. Paul Simon’s Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes, and two Pgroove heavy hitters, Suburban Speedball and 53 Things To Do In Zero Gravity brought in hot and grey weather which segued into a beautiful southern rain; just enough to refresh and carry us on to a sweet slide guitar showcase through So Much As Goodbye. The set finished out with the high inducing energy of All This Everything pt. 2.
Sunday’s first evening set began with the genuine Perihelion, which was a song at fault (forgiven) in the past for hooking several of my friends onto the bliss that is the PGroove train. Perihelion is an instrumental that can be found on the first Perpetual Groove discography entitled Sweet Oblivious Antidote.
A perfectly placed, emotionally obese Diggin’ In The Dirt (Peter Gabriel) came next, with crowd favorite Breeze soon after. Breeze is another song we haven’t heard live much lately and this one was one for the books. Breeze starts off silly and Brock and Hruby trade monkey sounds back and forth, but when each band member got locked in for the jam, this one went great places.
Out Here, Robot Waltz, and a cover of What You Need with sax player, Gary Paulo, brought in the torrential downpour complete with thunder and lightning that had been holding off all weekend. Umbrellas were held above the keyboards, towels mopped up spots on the stage, and in the audience we all huddled under a few easy-ups or high-tailed it to dryer grounds. PGroove drummer, Albert “the Wonder Llama” Suttle treated us to an amazing drum solo set. He has clips of recorded music playing while he drums and his selections are awesome. We waited and waited to see when/if a final set would happen but the rain didn’t seem to want to let up. Later than the rumored curfew, and after we got several announcements thanking us for our patience, we got my favorite set of the weekend.
Sunday’s set three opened with lyrically driven Witness to the Rest. Bassist Adam Perry’s brother, Damien, had made several appearances onstage throughout the weekend playing his white hollow body Gretsch and kicking the energy up a notch each time. After Witness, he came on to contribute the mind blowing aural pleasure in a Warren Zevon cover of Detox Mansion. Simply put, it was awesome. Intergalactic versions of Teakwood Betz and Playground, a Guest cover of At the Screen, and an LCD Soundsystem cover of All My Friends made this set quintessential Pgroove and must-hear goodness. The weekend closed with TTFPJ, complete with shout out to Adam’s brother in the song of “Damien is the man! Damien is the man!”, then emotional beauty of Only Always, with Speed Queen>Clap for the Killers>Speed Queen satisfying the nasty heavy side and the rap lover’s soul.
Amberland has packed up and left Cherokee Farms in La Fayette GA, and I have made the thousand mile trek back home. Sure is fun to reminisce each year about what goes down during my favorite weekend of the 52 available. Our ‘new’ keyboardist rose to the challenge and has provided us all with hope for more hard-hitting PGroove shows for the future. Amberland X was the first that got any significant rain, so it seems the sun shines on this small, perfect festival. See you next year!