When my musical world still revolved around less than a handful of bands, Percy Hill was one of the bands that a friend of mine strongly encouraged me to get into. I think my mind was a bit too restrictive at the time because last Friday was the first time I got to check out what they do live. And what better lead in, for me, than New Jersey's reigning princes of mullet rock n roll, RANA!!!
When I roll out of bed in the morning, I'm half surprised to find I'm not at Wetlands Preserve. It emodies a full sense of diversity and honor for the music creating a perfect atmosphere to let it all hang loose. One of the many shows I enjoyed there recently was RANA's June 12th gig. The first full show of theirs I got to hear in a long while and chock to the limits with the intelligent muscle they like to employ. But, RANA's never quite the same from show to show anyway.
Friday was incredible. A small group of faithfuls gathered in the back of the floor, loving every minute and wishing for more. What's a live music addict if not a glutton for the art? RANA satisfies because they burn some of the most intensly creative fires out there. Constantly reshaping old songs, bringing new interpretations to them in the live form, adding more covers and writing more material. One of their new tunes, "Modern Day Cowboy," had the sweet melody of a ballad with just that hint of country blues that any song with the word "cowboy" in the title demands.
The guys are very attentive in their lyric writing and give you ample chance to understand what they mean. This one portrayed their usual sense of humor, being about a guy from NJ wearing cowboy boots and hat, driving his gold Mercedes while carrying the thought that he was born "100 years too late." It was also a nice breather because the surrounding pieces, "This Machine & 900 Numbers," rocked out as usual.
These are the songs I know so it was more evident to me how comfortable they were on Friday. Guitarist Mr. Metzger a wizard and, at times, he wields his wand to create maelstroms of chords, but Friday he was more concerned with the details, smoothing them like a sculptor in the final stages of finishing his creation. But he couldn't do that without Mr. Southern (bass) whose anchor is the meaning of steadiness. That consistency also lets the other part of RANA's rhythm (drummer Mr. Thornton) let out his naturally excited style.
One of the things I love about RANA is how much fun they have when they're playing and how they give the audience a sense of their feeling for each other. Mr. Metzger's interactions with Mr. Durant (keys) during the last three songs of the set showed how open they are in sharing the creative energy as they go along. And Mr. Durant's vocals are a dead ringer for David Byrne so there's a naturally fun connotation to anything he lends his voice to. Mr. Thornton also had the vocal spotlight, encouraged by Mr.'s Southern and Metzger, rounding out the mix of vocal duty that was topped with Chris Harford for two songs. Prince's "Pop Life" was excellent with Harford's breathless delivery and the band really followed his direction of the intensity as they moved through the up and down ride. Metzger & Southern also play with Amfibian and RANA has already hosted a long list of guests in their stage career. All of this points to how open and willing they are to work in the truest group motif, even if they're not in the driver's seat.
"Carbombed Again" was the other new tune, about being destroyed on their favorite drink. Have you had one? It can definitely do the trick. As did the closer, "If I Can't Turn to You." It went off with the intensity of a chorus of fat ladies at the opera. The perfect stamp. Even though the sound guy called for one more through the monitors, there wasn't another one coming. It would have been superfluous.
There was a nice, relaxed break which gave us time to come down from the opener and around the bend ready for the main act. I heard a lot of Steely Dan references toward Percy Hill during my conversations between bands which I understood more when the band began to play. I find that many comparisons take firmest associations due to commonality of tone which I also found with this one. Percy also puts out a lot of the same slightly synthesized feel to a classic rock base. They also had the same kind of scholarly careful attention to the creation of their jams.
A lot of their work consisted of the drums, bass and guitar or keys laying down a quick but pensive rhythm while either the guitar or keys lifted off from that momentum into a run occupied by many more steps. Nate Wilson's keys in particular flurried with clarity during many of the breakout moments in their performance. During the first set, there was a marathon of such creation in a song I believe is called "Open Up." Guitarist Joseph Farrell exhibited an amazing sense of patience in the development of this piece, working out the ever so slight upgrade in intensity. The bass was a little low in the mix, at least where I was standing, but I could find John Laccese in there because his dance was very sure footed. He infused much of the energy in the underlying currents with the finite power of each of his notes.
It had been a while since Percy Hill hit the road so they were all the more careful about what they were going to play for the second set. They were having fun and glad to be back out here which was the tone they carried through the rest of the night. In retrospect, set one seemed a warm up by nature of how much further from that central base they went. The grooves varied in texture and they took the longer passages beyond where I thought they might cut it off. I'm glad I had the chance to hear all of it, and pick up a copy of their last album "Color In Bloom." Next time, I'll be very interested to see where they've gone with all of the dates between now and then in their trove of experience. I hope they, and all of you enjoy this return to live play.
RANA's only listed gig to come is this Saturday, 7/14, opening for Addison Groove Project at the Odyssey in Ithaca but more's always in the works with those guys. Percy Hill will be at The Middle East in Cambridge, MA on July 20th and Higher Ground in Winooski, VT the following day.
JamBase NYC Correspondent
Go See Live Music!!