Jim Weider’s Project Percolator, a straight-up rock band that played The Band and Dylan ballads like high-end garage-rock, boiled several times over on Saturday night at the Egg’s Swyer Theater.
Along with Weider, who spent 15 years in Robbie Robertson’s spot playing lead guitar for The Band, the group included Garth Hudson on keyboards.
The night started without Hudson for four stretched-out tunes from Weider’s solo project. With two guitars out front, backed by drum and bass, the group played good old heavy rock, with drummer Rodney Holmes and bassist Steve Lucas contributing a fusion texture, their hyped-up chops occasionally fell out of the groove, but it was fun to hear.
Drummer Holmes, who plays with Santana (he is on “Smooth”), was the kind of spectacle you expect from a Santana drummer—crazy fast and physical, hard not to watch lest you miss a mind-boggling move while he drove the heavy pulse.
Hudson, 75, came out, sat at his keyboard, hat over his face, big grey Santa beard hanging down over the keys, and played a mash-up of styles and melodies—moving from church organ to spacey Rick Wakeman to classical piano, the band watching, laughing, waiting for their cue.
They moved into a reggae feel of “The Weight,” no vocals, the melodies handled easily and precisely with Weider’s guitar. They morphed into a straight rock feel, brought it to an expected crescendo, and ended with a reggae feel again.
Then came “Just Like a Woman,” a heartbreak of a song when done right. Weider nailed it, sounding a bit like John Scofield on the melody. Hudson colored the song with his tinkling fills.
They followed with “Rag Mama Rag,” pounding at it, teasing out subtle, hidden pieces of the song without losing its core, pushing it into a heavy rock number. Levon Helm might not have wanted to play it, but he would liked what they did to it.
Early in the night Weider strapped on his 1952 Telecaster, then asked 96-year-old Lou Mancuso to stand up in the audience. Mancuso worked on the guitar for him 40-plus years ago.
They opened the second set with Pulse, from Weider’s Pulse album. While it’s guitar heavy, the songs are accessible, and the melodies are simple and enjoyable.
At one point, Hudson grumbled humorously, “Where’s my vocal mike?” Would have been nice to hear an old Band story, but that wasn’t’ going to happen.
Weider dedicated “Caledonia” to Levon. They presented this with a loose, bouncy groove, staying within the song, Weider nailing the vocals with a clean guitar sound, drummer Holmes keeping on the groove, avoiding his crazy, often distracting fills.
Twice Weider put a slide on his finger and wailed lengthy, screeching solos.
The Swyer wasn’t made for this kind of heavy sounds, but it came through with clarity, even at its loudest moments the room contained the instruments easily, never bleeding into one another.
There were not many tricks to the music Saturday night. This was the same rock played in basements 40 years ago. Thing is, these are musicians playing it at its highest, evolved form without sacrificing too much of its DNA. The audience got more than it bargained for.