On his 2005 album “Percolator,” Jim Weider decided it was time for a change.
Weider, 62, has a long resume in the roots and blues rock worlds, most obviously as guitarist for The Band, taking over for original member Robbie Robertson in 1985 and sticking with the legendary Canadian group until its breakup in 1999 following the death of bassist Rick Danko. Both during his stint with The Band and in the years following its breakup, Weider focused on his own eponymous band, while also recording for artists ranging from Dr. John to Mavis Staples.
“Percolator” showcases a completely different side to Weider’s playing, with a focus on prog-rock grooves and lengthy improvisations in the mostly instrumental music. The album subsequently spawned a new band, Jim Weider’s Project Percolator.
“It’s kind of a left brain, right brain thing,” Weider said recently from his home in Woodstock. “One reason I did ‘Percolator’ was to write something completely different, more groove-orientated but instrumental, which was different than the blues rock idiom I kind of felt like I was getting myself cornered in. I’m a roots rock player, but I have these amazing jazz and rock players behind me in Project Percolator that can really push me to my limits.”
Jim Weider’s Project Percolator featuring Garth Hudson
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: The Egg, Empire State Plaza, Albany
How Much: $29.50
More Info: 473-1845, www.theegg.org
The quartet, featuring drummer Rodney Holmes, bassist Steve Lucas and a rotating second guitar slot currently filled by Avi Bortnick, released a studio album under the Project Percolator name in 2009, “Pulse,” as well as a 2012 live album recorded at the Olde Mistick Village Performing Arts Center in Mystic, Conn., with James Montgomery on blues harp and occasional vocals.
While Project Percolator is Weider’s focus, he’s been keeping busy playing with the late Levon Helm’s Midnight Ramble Band, which he joined in 2009, and with guitarist Jimmy Vivino, bandleader of the Basic Cable Band featured on Conan O’Brien’s TBS show “Conan.” In April, Vivino, Weider and former Band keyboardist Garth Hudson performed in a tribute to The Band at the Tarrytown Music Hall.
Hudson will once again join Weider when Project Percolator plays at The Egg on Saturday night. The two have collaborated frequently outside of The Band, with Hudson sitting in with Project Percolator quite a few times on the band’s tours.
“We go back so long, me and Garth, so there’s a chemistry there,” Weider said. “People will hear Garth Hudson like they’ve never heard him. In The Band, it was more structured, but with Project Percolator we have big open spots to fill. So we’ll open up the song, one of the guys — either Rodney or I — will follow, and when we break it down, it will just be Garth and Rodney. It’s very open, and it lets Garth Hudson really open up and play. You’ll hear him with all his great sounds. It’s really exciting.”
Weider’s history with The Band goes back even before he joined, when he first befriended Helm in Woodstock in 1969. At that time, The Band had finished their first run as Bob Dylan’s backing band and was striking out on its own with albums like 1968’s “Music From Big Pink” and 1969’s self-titled record.
The Band’s original incarnation split in 1977, culminating their first run with the acclaimed live album and concert “The Last Waltz.” In 1983, The Band reconvened without Robertson, eventually inviting Weider to join.
Project Percolator has also been re-imagining songs from The Band in an instrumental setting. With Hudson in the fold at The Egg, the set will definitely include a few of those covers.
“We’ll do, of course, ‘The Weight,’ but we open it completely differently, with a reggae feel,” Weider said. “We’ll do ‘Rag Mama Rag’; we do a [Bob] Dylan tune. So there will be all of the — I kind of still have my roots rock, Telecaster, blues style, but underneath it I’ve got these amazing musicians pushing the envelope.”
Keeping it real
The band’s ever-evolving live show inspired the recording sessions for “Pulse,” which were completed in just three days with minimal overdubs.
“All my solos were live — it was a good way to capture the group,” Weider said. ‘We went up into the mountains, into a beautiful studio in the middle of winter in a snowstorm, and we were up there for three days and just got it done.”
For Weider, the recording setup helped bring out the best performances in himself and the rest of the band.
“To me, when the band is playing live, when I’m playing live, I do stuff — just because of the way my band is emotionally making me play — that I would normally not do in a studio where things start getting clinical,” Weider said. “You can make things perfect in the studio, but you kind of lose the soul and feeling. ... That’s why I like this live album, and ‘Pulse’ — it’s just how the musicians were all playing together. The chemistry comes across, which I think is very important, and people will hear that at the show.”
Weider and Project Percolator are gearing up for more festival dates this summer, and Weider is composing material for the group’s second album. He’s also still involved with the Midnight Ramble Band, which has continued to host the Midnight Rambles about once a month at the Levon Helm Studio in Woodstock.
“It was fantastic to get back with [Helm] after taking a break from The Band and be able to play with him,” Weider said. “The Rambles are still going; we’re doing one in May — May 25, a Saturday. ... It’ll never be the same without him, but it’s still very musical. The band is great and we get great guests in.”