Discusses Newt Carter’s Legacy, St. Pete Shows, & A Bright Future
By Eytan Eilender
“The start of this story is not where this tale begins. This point in life is not a segue, but, in fact, this is the act where the plot thickens. Never better was my answer when you’d asked me how I’d been….”
These lyrics from the classic PGroove song “It Starts Where It Ends” could not be more symbolically on point with the current state of the band. The tale began in Savannah, Georgia in 1997 when the band first formed. It’s been a memorable, invigorating and rocky rollercoaster to say the least. They had a long, wonderful run with the original members, until 2008, when Matthew McDonald left the band and John Hruby replaced him on keyboards. It was still a blast but definitely was not the same for years. Then Matt returned in 2012, and everything was whole again. Or was it?
A year later, in early 2013, Perpetual Groove would announce that they were finished. They called it quits and played their “final show” at the Georgia Theater in Athens on April 5th, 2013. Brock Butler, the band’s Guitarist/Lead Singer was battling with addiction, and it was clear that they couldn’t continue on this way. The other 3 members, Matt McDonald (Keys), Adam Perry (Bass) and Albert Suttle (Drums), continued on to form a new band called Ghost Owl and would play numerous festivals and venues over the next 2 years.
During this time, Brock was working on his own personal battle. He ended up fighting it with a vengeance and successfully completed Drug Court on June 29th of this year. It may have been the biggest blessing in disguise. “I support the drug court as an option instead of jail. I’m the better for having done it.” said Brock. “One of the last things our late dear friend & Sound Engineer, Newt, said to me before his recent passing was that I looked good, seemed really in a positive place; that these things made him personally happy and happy for me. I’ll hold onto that if I ever feel like I’m getting too loose.”
Bottom line, without Brock going through these trials and tribulations, the band would likely have not gotten back together. Brock is clearly on a far healthier path, and it shows. He appears more alive and rejuvenated than ever, and the rest of the band also has that glow about them; happy to be back together and making that PGroove magic happen again. It’s so wonderful to see them BACK and at the top of their game. There is something so incredibly special about Perpetual Groove. They are one of the few bands who can cradle your soul one second and then rip your face off and leave it in a puddle on the floor.
A major impact on all the band members, recently, was the loss of Newton “Newt” Carter. Separate of Perpetual Groove, Newt had an impressive history that ranged from being the guitar player for Vigilantes of Love in the 90’s to ultimately running Front of House for a roster that included Public Enemy, Melissa Etheridge and Kid Rock, and he was also Production Manager for The Who.
However, his relationship with PGroove was a special one, beyond explanation. “Newt was our FOH (front of house/soundman) engineer, mentor, friend, and a true guide in doing this life on the road/musician thing the right way. We came to meet Newt in 2005, while he was serving as the house engineer at the Georgia Theatre. After months of building a relationship, and after the the band moved to Athens in 2006, we convinced Newt to come on the road with Perpetual Groove full time. It was very clear from the beginning that Newt got what we were trying to do and knew how to teach us to do it better. He not only made us sound exactly how we intended, but knew how to make us sound our best.” shared Matt McDonald. “When Newt spoke, everyone listened… carefully. Then we all applied what he taught us.”
“Newt, I always felt he was the Gandalf in our crew. For my part, knowing he was at the helm gave me a confidence. Out front, I knew that whatever the mix was, it was the best it could be. As a friend and human being, a chat was never just a chat. It would steer to something profound. I learned a lot from Newt as a musician, producer, and as a friend” – Brock Butler
The sentiments bassist Adam Perry had to share about Newt were beautiful. He so eloquently expressed, “There are few people in my life that have meant so much to me, influenced me so much and have been a true source of inspiration. Newton Carter was all of these things. Someone I could turn to for guidance through this crazy music life path, someone who always calmed me, believed in me and made everything ok. I wouldn’t be me without him. He was a sage, a wise man that every time he spoke you listened because if you didn’t you would miss something important. I love you Newt, I miss you already and I’ll never forget you.”
Clearly, the effect that Newt had on the band was as meaningful and positive as it gets, so to lose him in between the Athens Run and the St Pete Run was a monumental blow, to say the least. But it also helped mold the way this magical run would unfold. There is no doubt that they decided to summon everything they had in order to make these shows a tribute and thank you to him, a celebration of his life, along with letting the fans along for this ride in a major way.
PGroove and their fans have a special symbiosis that few bands and their respective fan bases possess. There is a mutual understanding and intimacy that is rare to come by. Us “Perps” have formed an incredible community over the years, of love and admiration for the band and for each other. Florida has always been a place where PGroove reigned supreme, and this run at the State Theater in St. Pete would be no different. If Athens signified the triumphant return of PGroove, then St. Pete only further cemented and solidified that truth. It was as old school as it gets and executed with brilliance. As stated in the lyrics of “It Starts Where it Ends,” “In fact this is the act where the plot thickens.”
“Regarding the song choices for the St Pete run, we wanted to dig deeper into the catalog then we did in Athens. Part of doing these two night runs was because it enabled us to treat every weekend like its own little Amberland (or something) regarding the song choices. Florida has some of our earliest and hardcore fans that would appreciate us throwing lots of rarities out there. Plus, it’s good to mix it up,” said Matt McDonald. These words could not ring more true of the outcome of the weekend in St Pete. There was a central theme throughout the 2 Night Run, one of rewarding the fans with meticulous hand-picked setlists of old school rarities and bustouts. In return, the reception by the fans was one of absolute appreciation.
The State Theater is an incredible venue and was perfect for this run. It has a historical, intimate feel to it. Every single spot in the house was a perfect one. The acoustics were crystal clear and phenomenal. The vibe in the air was electric. The band didn’t hold back on Night 1. The 1st Set was a brilliant composition of numerous old school picks, sandwiched between “All This Everything, Part 1” and “All This Everything, Part 2,” each of which were played with immense beauty. “Playground,” a classic instrumental favorite and rarely played, came out of “All This Everything, Part 1” with a soaring, pretty playfulness that had everyone dancing like they were kids once again. “So Much As Goodbye” sent waves of emotion through the crowd, followed by “AIM,” which is one of the band’s oldest songs and seldom played anymore. “Free Ride to the Show” was another bustout that was incredibly well received, gushing with grace. “Suburban Speedball” was another extremely old school treat, in which the lyrics, “Shaking, I’m shaking, I’m shaking… And now I’m fine,” alluded to Brock’s struggle with addiction, of which he has now reigned triumphant. The song hit hard, and it was a wonderful choice with perfect placement, right before “All This Everything Part 2” closed out the 1st Set to come full circle from the “All This Everything, Part 1” opener.
The 2nd Set opened with a first time played cover by the Indie-Rock outfit Ashtar Command, which was called “Let The Sunshine In.” When asked about this choice, Brock said, “It’s just a simple, direct message. And we all dig on some Ashtar.” Following that song choice was “Crockett & Tubbs->The Sunshine Underground->Crockett & Tubbs,” which was another treat. After that came a highlight of the evening, which was the band’s rare & high energy cover of Peter Gabriel’s “Digging In The Dirt.” The entire crowd was shouting a resounding, “This time you’ve gone to far!!!” and the energy was high octane. Then came “Cabulo Monstrosity->God’s Gonna Cut You Down (Johnny Cash cover)->Cabulo Monstrosity.” This sandwich was indeed just that, a monstrosity of brilliance, which got the crowd deep into it. Then came the extremely rare “53 Things To Do In Zero Gravity,” followed by a rocking “TTFPJ” set closer, which had the place going nuts.
“Gratitude” by The Beastie Boys opened the encore of Night 1. When asked about the choice of this in the encore slot, Brock Butler beautifully stated, “’Gratitude’ I’d say is symbolic for each and every one of us. This time last year I didn’t know if I was even going to try getting back out into music at all.”
I’m grateful we got to do the two nights in Athens with Newt one last time; I’m grateful to have another chance to play music I love, for people that, best I can tell, also love it, and when you got so much to say it’s called….. gratitude.” Well Brock, the fans are absolutely filled to the brim with gratitude as well!!
After “Gratitude” came “Cairo” to close out, which was elevated into psychedelic blissful terrain, and just like that, it was on to Night 2.
The 2nd Night of the St Pete run was one for the books. The band opened up the show with “For Now Forget,” which is one of the rarer songs in the catalogue. The gorgeous melody and the comforting lyrics of, “Sure we’ll have our troubles, for now just leave them by the door. For now forget your worries, don’t you worry anymore” washed over the crowd with a coziness that put everyone at ease and smiling big. Then came “Astro Monkey,” which was another major bustout, and it got everyone going in a big way. “Paper Dolls” was very welcomed and in turn, a beautiful version, and “Decepticon Structure” took things further into outer space. Next was “Thinking Those Thoughts,” which came as a great and pleasant surprise to all old school fans. Brock mentioned, “Some of the earliest stuff… I personally hear the lyrics and can see that I was writing from limited life experience, so I’m not generally crazy about some of those early songs. Some I like very much. ‘Thinking Those Thoughts’ I definitely feel stands the test of time.” It sure does, because it was a wonderful highlight of the night. Then to close out the 1st set was a wonderful trifecta of “Perihelion,” “Save For One” and “Stealy Man,” which was out of this world. “Stealy Man” closed out the 1st Set with a bang, leaving everyone wanting more.
The 2nd Set opener left many jaws wide open, as it was the return of an extremely obscure classical composition called “Luthien and Beren.” The title originates from the story of the love and adventures of the mortal Man Beren and the immortal Elf-maiden Lúthien, as told in several works of J. R. R. Tolkien. It is also one of the most gorgeous musical compositions Perpetual Groove has written. Next came another fan favorite cover of David Bowie’s “I’m Afraid of Americans,” which, in contrast to the pretty “Luthien and Beren,” took a welcomed dark turn and got everyone getting down hard. “The March of Gibbles Army” and “The Man With All The Answers” continued the central theme of deep cuts from the catalogue. The rest of the 2nd set was absolute madness. “Breeze->Pepper->Breeze” got the place bouncing in joy and excitement. The whimsical care free rocker “Breeze” took form wonderfully, with the tongue n’ cheek Chimpanzee vocal effects bringing laughter and fun to everyone. The return of what used to be a commonly played cover of the Butthole Surfers’ “Pepper” induced a sing-a-long of grand proportions, and it seamlessly segued back into “Breeze”. After that, the goodness just kept on coming. “Walking in Place,” which is a major fan favorite, came in so gracefully. Brock got to his “Rev” section and took us all to church, and it was glorious. Then they decided to close out the 2nd Set with a bang, ripping right into “Mayday,” which is possibly one of the heaviest, hardest rockers in the band’s repertoire. The entire crowd went wild, and the fist pumping & head banging was infused into us all without even realizing it was taking hold. The “Mayday” 2nd Set closer was an explosion of sorts, leaving everyone dumbfounded by what had just occurred.
The encore of Night 2 to close out the St Pete run was as special as it gets. They decided to end with a song written by Newt, first time played, called “Black String” into the classic “It Starts Where It Ends.” It was the perfect way to close out what was already an incredibly unique and special run. Matt McDonald had some sentiments to share on the choice of encore. He said, “What would end up being Newt’s final time at the helm for Perpetual Groove was our first shows back from the hiatus at the Georgia Theatre. In this case, ‘It Starts Where it Ends’ was appropriate on every level. Newt’s song, ‘Black String’ > ‘It Starts Where it Ends’ we felt were the perfect songs to encore with in Florida.” It felt like this at the time, but Matt’s words only further cement it.
In addition to that, “It Starts Where It Ends” felt like the perfect closer in many ways. It was the end of the run, but it signified a new and healthy start for the band, one of optimism and excitement in the air, a new hopeful era. Matt McDonald clued us all into this renaissance that is taking place, by saying “We’ve got a lot up our sleeves for the rest of the year too. We definitely want people to feel like they get a new and different experience at every run of shows this year.” And as the run came to an end, Perpetual Groove stated to all of us through their lyrics, as a collective, “Never better was my answer when you’d asked me how I’d been!” The future is bright, and the force is strong with this band.