Words by: Cal Roach
Particle :: 11.29.07 :: Miramar Theatre :: Milwaukee, WI
Over the course of seven years as a band, Particle has drifted in and out of the spotlight in a scene now brimming over with techno/jam band hybrids. The group's momentum seemed unstoppable until the less-than-amicable departure of guitarist Charlie Hitchcock in 2005. Since then, the group has burned through two more guitarists and exists now as a three-piece consisting of bassist Eric Gould, drummer Darren Pujalet and keyboardist Steve Molitz. For its winter tour, Particle enlisted guitarist Josh Clark of Tea Leaf Green to fill in for most dates, while a permanent lineup remains up in the air. As such, it should've come as no surprise that the tour-opener at the Miramar Theatre in Milwaukee was not an example of a tight, energetic show.
| Darren Pujalet - Particle by Valerie Levinsohn|
Opener Alpha Transit warmed up the crowd with a progressive jazz-funk-rock fusion that was a bit sloppy at times but also really drove forward during some grand improv sections. The group was low on stage presence but full of musicianship, and there was a clear camaraderie and powerful essence that elevated the music from low-budget jam to a real potential force. There was nothing particularly original here, but the success of modern prog bands like Umphrey's McGee in the jam community bodes well for a band like Alpha Transit.
Particle's set started off fairly strong with "Denmark," a decent representation of the band's sound - basic jam band territory with a dash of electronica. They built this first jam up to a nice peak before letting it dissolve. From there, the group was all over the place, and not in a good way. Disjointed and distracted, it was difficult to tell for most of the night if Pujalet was having trouble hearing the rest of the band or if he just couldn't keep up as he fell behind the beat more than once (most noticeably during set-closer "Sun Mar 11"). He seemed to have no interest in taking control, except to blatantly announce a change with a thrill-deflating snare run. It's understandable that, with a guest guitarist, intra-band communication will suffer, but for Particle, whose success relies wholly on building tension during extended jams, the risk of one person missing a change has got to be worth not killing the suspense entirely.
The most interesting point during the night was the jam out of "Young Lust" that toyed with "Shakedown Street" for quite a while and got the crowd groovin'. But then it drifted out into space and even the ambience that transitioned into "One Of These Days" seemed out of synch and sloppy, and there was zero excitement built up at any point for a song with so much potential. TLG tune "Wet Spot" started off promising, but there seemed to be technical problems that sent the jam crashing into a random drum solo. The music got rolling again into a spooky, esoteric stretch only to be undermined by a typically prosaic drumbeat, leading to a truly anticlimactic ending. Part of what makes contemporaries like STS9 and The Disco Biscuits exciting is their respective drummers' abilities to simulate the insistent build of rave-style techno while creating interesting diversions the way only a human can. Pujalet displayed no dynamic and precious little diversity. Perhaps he was overcompensating for a band still shaking off cobwebs, perhaps the band is in the process of rethinking its musical direction entirely, but someone needs to step up and take the reins.
| Steve Molitz - Particle by Valerie Levinsohn|
Clark is a talented player, and he provided some small excitement but never sustained anything long enough to really shine, and none of the other players showed any leadership whatsoever. By the encore, the light show overtook the music as the most impressive aspect of the performance. At this point, Particle is watching the pack pull away. At their best, they were a cohesive unit pulsing behind the energy and power of a dominant guitar player. Without that key element, the weaknesses of the rest of the band are clearly revealed. Hopefully the act will improve over the course of the tour, but it was a flat beginning.
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