Hydra :: 04.08.05 :: The Fillmore :: San Francisco, CA
The thing about Particle is they have a lot of energy. They play with a clean, professional flair but often without many distinguishing characteristics save for hearty stamina. But just because you can ball all night that doesn't necessarily make you a great lover. The hope walking into The Fillmore was that something new might emerge with the Grateful Dead's Mickey Hart joining them to form Hydra - that whatever tribal x-factor Hart might bring would make Particle into the "pioneering electronic/jam-rock band" they describe themselves as.
Hydra :: 04.16.05 :: Chicago
There's the quality of a one-night stand to Hydra. The music is big, messy, and overwhelming. If you surrender to it then you might have a good time (or at least good enough to make it into the wee hours of the morning), but if you stop and think about it for too long you may question whether it's a good idea. On the surface (a place where most of this music lives), this is a mash-up of one of the original jammers (Hart) with one of today's most celebrated, active jam acts. There's the potential blend of World Beat exoticism with electronica's vast possibilities. Unfortunately, potential and actuality are two different beasts.
As this was only the second night of the tour, there are still kinks for them to work out. The basic character of the music is grooves lacking in much compositional grace but buried in rhythm, not just from drummer Darren Pujalet and Hart but also from Eric Gould's amorphous, enveloping bass work and the largely rhythm guitar of Charlie Hitchcock. More than jam music, it comes off like a rave without a DJ, which worked well for the more heavily medicated or alcohol-soaked in the audience. This is a body band, experiential, but without much to examine beyond the momentary rush of loud, live music.
Steve Molitz :: Hydra :: 04.16.05
Most of the truly interesting bits came from the crazy quilt of keyboards of Steve Molitz, a Caucasian descendent of George Duke and Bernie Worrell. He steered the group into a piano slowness with roaring cosmic undertones or provided the enzyme that made the jets fire hotter than usual. I also like that he's not as well scrubbed as the rest of Particle, or Mickey Hart for that matter. There's a wild hair to him that emerges in the inspired randomness of his sonic choices. The problem, even with Molitz, who is a very talented cat, is that for all the pretty flutters and whirring strangeness, their music feels like an introduction to something bigger and more fleshed out that never really arrives. There is clearly something compelling about the layers of texture Molitz brings. His intense stare, even while soloing, feeds off the crowd's energy and frequently makes for some squiggly, in-the-moment fun. I just wish his gifts were harnessed to something more substantive. Even in his recent Phil Lesh and Friends appearances, he seems somewhat out of his depth - a talent in search of the right music to truly express his gifts.
One nice aspect of the Hydra pairing is how it mixed up the age groups. Road tested tie-dye warriors with silver manes mingled with candy necklace wearing, glow stick toting youngsters. The jam scene is often segmented, older fans sticking to what they know from the '60s and '70s and younger acts drawing an audience closer to their own age. There's a sprinkling of each group at every show, but this was nearly a 50/50 split between the pioneers and the new settlers, so to speak. Hydra seemed to go over well with most of the crowd, who didn't seem to mind this being mostly background to a night on the town. The mood was enough to sustain overall high spirits.
Mickey Hart :: Hydra :: 04.16.05
It's a bit strange to see Hart up there, finally able to satisfy those Dead fans who always thought just one "Drums" a night wasn't nearly enough. He seems turned on by the groovetastic nature of today's electronic music, though in fairness, Particle's sound is really the sound of electronic music from say 1995 - discrete parts of Morgan Geist, Transglobal Underground, Carl Craig, and more than a sprinkling of '80s electric fusion jazz. Hart jumped in randomly to beat some heat from his congas or step forward to pluck an African finger piano or shake a snarl of odd-looking parts for a rattling accent to what the lads were cooking. More than the main course, Hart seemed like a friendly spice, adding paprika to a jungle section or cumin to the spacey tangents. Even on his signature "Fire On The Mountain," he seemed sort of distant, watching the event unfold around him but not always directly engaged. Still, the elder statesman held his own and for the most part seemed like he was having a fine time.
The weak link in Hydra (and Particle) is guitarist Charlie Hitchcock. Even when the field opened up for him to burn, as on the aforementioned "Fire," he had little to offer. Trust me, I do not like saying something like this about any musician, but I've been listening to Hitchcock for four years and hoping that the endless touring would eventually bring out something unique or powerful. It has not. He plays with a heartless cleanliness that appeals to readers of Guitar Player and other six-string technical rags. He's not untalented, but he's also not very individual in his talents. Hitchcock reminds me of guys like Dokken's George Lynch or Frank Gambale, who played with Chick Corea's Elektric Band. There's a smattering of pyrotechnics, and he can run scales like a mad man, but energy does not make character.
(l to r) Hitchcock, Gould, Hart
Hydra :: 04.16.05
An attempt at a Pink Floyd type thing after "Fire" came off as New Age rather than Gilmour graceful. It actually brought to mind Ozric Tentacles' raver prog-rock, which may well be what Hydra was aiming for. When it turned suddenly and unexpectedly into a disco-meets-horror-movie bounce, things took off and sent the sizeable, though not sold out crowd, into jumping spasms.
This stripe of robotic boogie does possess a gentle freakiness that helps cleanse the mind - a clear-headed chug that saturates one's pores. If they could find this place more often, the lack of depth in their music wouldn't be as obvious. There's something to be said for the thudding abandon of the drum circle or the chant, and Hydra occasionally touched upon it but not enough to make me stay past the set break. Nothing I'd heard in the first half compelled me onward. As with many Particle shows I'd seen, Hydra lays out their stuff early on and doesn't venture too far from known territory afterwards.
Words by: Dennis Cook
Images by: Adam George
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