Mischief Night with Particle: The Return of Charlie Hitchcock
Mischief night, October 30, 2010, the Los Angeles-based band Particle brought their brand of ‘electro-funk rock’ to the University Hill area of Boulder, Colorado. The venue was the popular Fox Theatre. This show was to be a culmination of a run of four shows in Colorado, and a celebration for the band of 10 years in the business. Particle keyboard player and bandleader Steve Molitz is a University of Colorado at Boulder alumni, and honed his skills in several bands around Boulder before relocating to California and assembling the pieces of Particle.
Particle has undergone many changes over the last decade, mostly due to fact that the outfit has had as much trouble retaining guitar players as Spinal Tap had retaining drummers. For this 10th anniversary tour though, Particle invited back its original guitar player, shredder extraordinaire Charlie Hitchcock. Since departing Particle in 2005 under un-amicable terms, Hitchcock went on the explore different musical realms, and Particle went through a series of replacements on guitar, and, in the process, lost quite a bit of steam as a touring band, despite having toured in its early career with the likes of and Phil Lesh and Mickey Hart, and becoming known for their strong late-night sets at major music festivals. With Hitchcock back in the fold, however, Particle’s original music was to transport the audience back to the prime of the band. In addition, this particular gig, being on the eve of Halloween, was to feature one set of Particle original music, as well as a full set of Pink Floyd tribute material.
The first set featured mainly Particle ‘classics’, instrumental songs written in their early career, and featured on their 2004 debut album, Launchpad, which was recorded during the era in which Hitchcock first was slinging his six-string in the band. A notable exception to this was the song that got the party started, “Triple Threat”, an upbeat groove vehicle that operates by each band member contributing a distinctly different sonic layer to a multi-faceted composition. This song allowed plenty of room for Molitz to do some slick pitch-bending on the dial of his Moog, and Hitchcock to carry the jam afterwards. The jam eventually slipped back into the control of Molitz’s spacey work on the keys, and soon was drawn to a close with some great lick-doubling between Molitz on the keys and Hitchcock on his axe. After “Triple Threat”, the band paused for a few seconds before bass player Eric Gould launched into the jumpy bass intro to “Roads a Breeze (@ 3AM)”. While this tune is one of my favorites off of the Launchpad album, Molitz’ early keyboard solo seemed quite subdued to me. Fortunately, my initial impressions of this particular rendition did not last, as the song kept driving along, including some snappy drum fills by Darren Pujalet. When Molitz gave Charlie the nod that it was his turn to shine, Hitchcock did not disappoint. He smoothly escalated the shreddery on his six-strings, incorporating bluesy bends, muted funky strums, and lightning quick ascending and descending modal runs that allowed no mercy for the faint-hearted. Then after Hitchcock built the tension to a peak, it was time for Molitz to ‘do his thing’. The whirring, pitch-bending, and welcome audible assault from the keyboard seemed to come from all sides just as the main groove of the song started again, and sent the audience into a dancing-frenzy until the song concluded with some precise rock-chops and heavy hitting by Pujalet.
Particle’s next song in the set was the much less-frenzied, much more chilled-out number, “Below Radar”. This song’s intro featured some tricky stick-work by Pujalet and some melodic chords executed by Gould on his Modulus bass. When the relaxed groove of the song kicks in, Molitz took a back seat and played some background textures on his keyboards while Hitchcock played the beautiful and melodic Joe Satriani-esque lead. After “Below Radar”, which is Particle’s version of a sad ballad, I thought that the band needed to bring the energy back up. They did, as Pujalet drove up the tempo into a funky, quirky-beat jam which soon melded into “Double Helix”. While I was not overly familiar with this song, Hitchcock’s guitar was soon cranked and he again went into his fiery scale runs, string bends, blazing hammer-ons, and jazzy textures. Next up was the 1st set closer, the prog-metal-esque selection from Launchpad, “The Elevator”. This tune is unique, in that this minor-key rocker seems that it would fit just as well in a Dream Theater concert with a mosh-pit, if this were not a jam-band show. Regardless, Particle clearly loves playing this tune, and the ‘Particle People’ clearly embrace the energy of this song. This song builds and builds, spearheaded by Hitchcock’s harmonic-minor scale melodic licks. Again, once the tension builds to a pinnacle, Molitz provides the release. His multiple keyboard instrumental section can only be described as sounding Middle-Eastern in nature from several decades into the space-age future. After this showcase by Molitz, it was back to Hitchcock to up to try to up the ante. After a furious final jam in the song, the set came to an abrupt end. Up next was the widely anticipated set of Pink Floyd tribute.
While walking around the Fox Theater, I noticed that the venue was becoming significantly more crowded than it had been for the first set. When the members of Particle sauntered back on stage, I noticed that they were not alone. A guest saxophone player, Pete Wall, would sit in for this entire set (Wall added sax to a couple of interludes in the first set as well), and I also observed two microphone stands at the rear of the stage, which would later be used by two female vocalists, Kimberly Dawson and Kelsey Shiba. Once the band was situated, Charlie Hitchcock began the opening muted slides, delay-driven effects, and harmonics of “Run Like Hell”. Like the Pink Floyd original, this take featured multiple band members contributing the vocal lines, in this case it being Molitz and Gould exchanging the vocal lines. After a seemingly brief version of this song, Gould’s Modulus bass churned out the 5/4 time signature intro to “Money”. This song got a great crowd reaction, and included a rousing saxophone solo from Pete Wall. Particle then segued into “Young Lust”, which I believed to be one of the stronger songs of this set, both vocally and instrumentally. Particle jammed out the end of “Young Lust” extensively, until it segued seamlessly into “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”, another strong offering. After “Crazy Diamond” came the Pink Floyd instrumental, “One of These Days”, with Hitchcock using a searing metal slide to emulate David Gilmour’s lap steel of the original.
Hitchcock’s overdriven and delay-effected guitar sent this jam soaring to all corners of the venue, and after an impressive take, he and his band-mates brought the tempo back down in perfect time to mellow out for “Great Gig in the Sky”, sung by the two aforementioned female singers. Next in the set was the predictable “Another Brick in the Wall Part II”, sung by Molitz and Hitchcock, which seemed like a very brief rendition before settling into a nice funky jam driven by Gould’s bass and Molitz’ keys. Suddenly, on cue, all the band members ceased jamming, and Molitz immediately began playing the keyboard solo which normally occurs at the crux of the Particle original tune, “Sun Mar 11”. After several moments of extended keyboard wizardry from Molitz, the rest of the band kicked back in and the group stormed ahead to complete “Sun Mar 11”, which grew in intensity as the song built. The crowd was clearly back in frenzy now, as glow-sticks were thrown about and there was not a soul standing still in the venue. The conclusion of the song was met by rousing cheers and applause. I nearly expected “Sun Mar 11” to be the last song of the set, but the members of Particle had other plans. After soaking in the vibe of the crowd, Particle gently slipped into the Pink Floyd song, “Keep Talking”, which again featured the female backup singers and Molitz on lead vocal. “Keep Talking”, which is a somewhat mellow offering, gradually sneaked into a funky groove, powered by Pujalet’s pounding of the skins, and aided by some drippy tones on Molitz’ keys. The funk slipped into a jam that reminded me of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition”, however that song never materialized. After this un-named jam got the “Particle People” back moving, it was time to switch gears again. It was time for some more choices from Dark Side of the Moon. “Any Colour You Like” segued into the “Brain Damage” / “Eclipse” combo, which ended the set. After an ovation, the band returned to the stage for their encore, which began with a strong version of the Particle original “Eye of the Storm”, segued into the thick space-funk of “Launchpad”, then into the early Floyd –era song, “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun”.
Upon completion, Steve Molitz thanked the crowd for the awesome Colorado run, and let concert-goers know that the band would be hanging out in the lobby of the venue. Molitz was all smiles during his address to the crowd, and he clearly got as much fun out of his band’s music as the crowd seemed to have. Here’s to hoping Particle and Charlie Hitchcock decide to keep the jams coming with more shows in the future, as the Charlie’s guitar work is clearly the best fit for them.