Written by John Mikeska
“I’m loving to see Particle on the Tour Horse again! The action and energy of that music is meant to be shared all across the country and it looks like the boys are crushing it. Bravo Gents! In the words of the late, great Merl Saunders, ‘KEEP ON KEEPIN’ ON’.” – Eric Gould of Pink Talking Fish
The frigid Vermont air dipped below zero and threatened to stop all molecular activity on Saturday January, 10 2015. The prevailing Nor-Easter might have succeeded in reaching absolute-zero if it wasn’t for the four-piece jam-tronica act known as Particle that descended upon Burlington and took the stage this fateful night. With Allen Aucoin of the Disco Biscuits in tow, they were primed for an energy-filled set that purveyors of the jam/festival scene have come to know, love, and expect from this band.
The crowd filtered in and out before the band took the stage. Amid the usual pre-show chatter you could hear those who had come to see the band because Allen was in the lineup. The room hadn’t quite made it to half- capacity when the band took the stage.
Reverberant sampling and swirling echoes, courtesy of founding member/keyboardist Steve Molitz gave way to “Launchpad”. The rhythm section took their time developing the opening selection. Clay Parnell, who assumed bassist duties after the departure of founding-member Eric Gould, found his place in the tight groove laid down by Aucoin. The band explored different rhythmic orientations around the precise 16th note/high hat work of the drummer. I was instantly awed by the consummate professionalism that Allen was able to express in his first show with the group. It seemed like they took a little extra time exploring the space before anybody took a solo in the opener. When guitarist, Ben Combe, eventually took a solo, the overdrive drenched, sustain-driven tone he produced sliced through the mix without sayin’ please. Moliltz was quick with the draw, as vibrato infused synth-lines layered the textual complexity of the psychedelic space-funk.
The first set played like an extended jam punctuated by key changes and improvisational cues that explored the limits of musical genre, tempo, and tonality. Particle builds up jams to riotous peaks while effortlessly exploring the dynamic hills and valleys that come with the territory of improvisational music.
Parnell digs into a deep/heavy bassline to open up a groove alongside Molitz’s organ. Combe comes through with a piercing mid-range electro-funk tone that locked in with Steve’s organ as if to say “There it is!” As the pocket-groove stretches in and out (pursuant to the desires of the rhythm section) Molitz accentuates the vortex with tazer-like synth.
The band cohesively navigates the treacherous waters of the dreamy psychedelic groove. A very tight drum n’ bass presentation, punctuated by Combe’s scratchy guitar funk meandered toward a sultry guitar solo.
Combe creatively contributes with a myriad of tones, textures, and effects. Notably, he engaged the octave pedal for some memorable acid-jazz/fusion type grooves.
Particle didn’t waste much time as they returned to the stage after a short set-break. They came together nicely for a spirited performance of Beck’s “E-Pro” which they notably played they last time at Higher Ground. A high-energy rock n’ roll sing along was all it took to reunite the crowd 2nd set.
Steve Molitz was in traditional form as he provided the lyrical, groovy keys style he’s known for in Particle. The band impressively explored the space with patience and reckless abandonment. They were able to take it out there for some of the more pronounced “hills and valleys” sections and find their way back together on cue. The guitarist took some bigger risks during the 2nd half of the show in the form of atonal dissonance, key changes, and tempo shifts in a completely different direction. If Allen missed a note all night, I wasn’t aware. If anything he seemed careful, reserved early on before he settled into the deep pronounced groove he occupied for the majority of the evening.
The band launched into a drum-laden progressive/trance groove that Allen seemed to particularly enjoy. Emerging from the jam, the Beverly Hills Cops melody squelched from Molitz’s deck as he grooved down proper with the rest of the band in stride. Combe provides a textural guitar funk that is somewhere between lead and rhythm and works exceptionally well within Particle’s arrangement.
There are undoubtedly a lot of questions about where Particle fits in to the contemporary jamscape. One thing is for certain; the fact that this band is still alive and groovin’ is a good thing. The history of Particle in the jam-scene (especially in the jamtronica subset) is nothing short of legendary. Simply put, the world is a better place come festival season when there is an opportunity for Particle to play one of their late-night ragers.