Brock looks tired. That was my first thought as the band took the stage at New York’s Highline Ballroom. The heavily bearded, normally jovial guitar player—and de facto band leader—seemed distracted, even somber. Spending the first few minutes of the first song fiddling with his equipment, he tentatively joined the slow build of “Gorilla Monsoon,” which ambled along adequately but failed to provide the spark that usually ignites a Perpetual Groove first-set opener.
The crowd seemed equally lethargic, mustering little applause even after a solid “Playground>Orange Wedge>Playground” got things moving—though Brock still remained distant, occasionally falling behind the rhythm and missing cues. The highlight of the first set came in the form of a classic cover, Paul Simon’s “I Know What I Know,” always a crowd pleaser. The LiveLoveDie anthem “It Starts Where it Ends” led into the reliable “Robot Waltz” to close a set that, by P-Groove’s lofty live standards, seemed a bit uninspired.
David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” launched a quick-and-dirty second set heavy on muscular rock, a change of pace appreciated by the crowd. “Space Paranoids, “TTFPJ” and “Speed Queen” rounded out a tight 45-minute set that demonstrated the band’s ability to shift gears and fill the venue with forceful arena rock. After the shaky start, it was refreshing to see them attack the music with renewed vigor.
The “Only Always” encore provided a workmanlike cap to the night. Though they never caught fire, P-Groove showed that even on what seemed to be an “off” night, they still provide one of the best small-theater rock shows out there