Chicago Jam Scene: Particle

Article & Photos by Frazier


Bringing in the 2nd night of awesome music this weekend was a band I have liked for a long time. I first saw Particle at Dunegrass Festival in Empire, Michigan in 2007. I thought the show was pretty amazing, but apparently not many other people did. It seemed that Particle had fallen off after the introduction of lyrics and the revolving door at the lead guitar position seemed to be crippling the band. They stopped touring altogether not long after that and I hadn't heard anything from them in a couple years. Enter 2010 and Particle has come back with a vengeance. I saw them recently at the Muncie Springfest and they eviscerated my skull with the intense jamtronica I've come to love. This time they were at one of my favorite smaller venues, the Double Door, so I knew I was in for one hell of a show. Not only was I going to see Particle indoors for the first time ever but they brought along trumpet killer & loose cannon Willie Waldman for added entertainment value. Yessir, it was going to be a wild night of music.

We usually try to take the train or walk to shows, but when it comes to Wicker Park we always take the easy way out. A taxi is much quicker and seems to be totally worth the $13 to avoid the hour-plus train ride from Lakeview to hipster heaven. Amy and I hopped out at the Double Door to find a group of our friends also arriving-- it was great timing. We soon met up with some other friends who had arrived earlier confirming our perfect timing. Indeed, we avoided the "meh" opening band and only waited about 15 minutes before Particle hit the stage. The first thing I noticed before they ripped into "Launchpad" was that Ben Combe was mysteriously absent. I knew this dude was totally fucking kooked, but I definitely expected him to follow through with Particle's first tour in a while. I guess this partially explains that revolving door... I thought Combe was awesome at Springfest but I don't think they missed him at all on this night. The 2 guitarists they featured in his stead, Mark Grundhoefer and the Unknown Assailant (pictured above), were bayonet sharp and left no shred unturned.

I was definitely expecting some sweet covers but I didn't expect it to be the second song in. Nonetheless, they busted out a wild version of Pink Floyd's "Young Lust" and got the crowd locked into the show. It had a super funky bass line from Eric Gould and spot-on guitar sections from the two shredders. The song was pretty much a straight-forward cover... that was until Steve Molitz got his claws into it and meandered away from the script with some fiery & filthy synths. When this song finally ended Molitz introduced the Corona-toting trumpeter Willie Waldman to the stage. The first song with Waldman was a classic blast of Particle, "Triple Threat", and kicked up the intensity of the show to a splitskull pace. Molitz drove the energy of this expansive jam with thick synths that played amazingly with the looming wall of sound that Waldman was building. Willie's distorted, laser-beam sounding trumpet laid the perfect backdrop for another extremely heavy bassline from Gould. This song has always been one of my favorites and this version was radioactive. Molitz then introduced another guest, Stephen Cook, who was a violinist sporting the jam attitude. "Below Radar" was amazing with the added trumpet & violin and kept this intense show running at top speed. Waldman would be jumping and pumping his fist when others were playing and I could tell he was having a shitshow time. When he was playing he was making some wild sounds using echo effects and other various modulation pedals & dials. It was like a tumultuous ocean of trumpet goodness. At this point there was 8 people on stage and the Particle Orchestra was in full force. They eventually segued into "Equator" where Molitz stood out as the set came to a close. There was a wailing cry from Cook's violin and yet another ominous bassline from Gould, however Molitz dominated this song and played with a torrential downpour of emotion like I've rarely seen. His body writhes & spasms in response to his sounds and his face contorts into expressions of pure, orgasmic joy. I can tell he is having an absolute blast on stage and is engulfed in the energy of the crowd. He appears to truly love melting faces, so much so in fact that he can't help but melt his own.

Setbreak was long and I started to get pretty antsy. I hopped up on stage and sat on the edge to make the wait easier. As I was chilling, Waldman walked up behind me and started setting up his gear for the second set. He mumbled something about "being with these guys from the beginning" and I nodded in bewildered agreement. This was my cue to hop down and prepare for more savagery. I popped my new (and fucking lifesaving) noise-reducing ear plugs in as they plunged into an unexpected cover of 2Pac & Dr. Dre's "California Love". Waldman held down that trademark melody with his trumpet while a guest MC was on stage belting out the lyrics. This song again wandered wildly off course and ended up as a dense funk jam. During this jam I went to take a photo of Amy and her friend Ania when Molitz surprised us and jumped off the stage. He squeezed between them just as I was about to snap the photo and it turned out amazingly. Molitz climbed back on the stage and lead a segue from the the heavy funk of "Cali Love" into a smooth, gliding funk. This segue was almost a song in itself as it also featured another sledgehammer bassline to underscore this soft & greasy funk interlude. The segue morphed into "Gator", a tune with some spaaaaaaaaaace lyrics & beatboxing from Molitz that was modulated somehow through his synth.

Once again I got lost in the milieu of a segue as "Gator" somehow became "The Other One". I'm not sure where the change over occurred as this was basically a 30 minute block of insane jam... a.k.a. the place I always want to be. My eyes were primarily closed, dancing around the inside of my eyelids as Particle created a neural synesthetic playland. This period was highlighted by some sick percussion battling from Darren Pujalet and yet another guest in the back hammering on djembes while Molitz laid back in the cut on his tambourine. There was a very cheery interlude in there somewhere that shifted the mood for a quick minute before the intensity picked back up with more spaced out Molitz vocals and Waldman stomping out some of his most passionate work of the evening. Willie was absolutely pouring sweat (as was I) as he kept bouncing through this set. He was on what must have been his 8th beer of the night and was still kicking serious ass. This wild span of music is quite scrambled in my memory as I was truly lost in that jammy place in my head where I always wish I was while I'm sitting in school. It was awesome.

They finally wrapped up "The Other One" and Molitz gave the stage to Grundhoefer to play a song that he wrote. Mark stepped up and gave a powerful performance of "It's My Life". Despite the fact that it shares its title with that terrible Bon Jovi song, this song is actually awesome and Grundhoefer showcases his musical talent. His guitar work in this song was Warren-esque and absolutely bone-shattering. This incredible shredding was matched by an unexpectedly strong voice that was filled with passion & soul. This song had a structure that felt a little out of place in the grand scheme of the concert, but I felt like it was well-placed. It served as a nice palate cleanser as they immediately after started building for one of their cornerstone songs, a magnum opus of sorts called "Ed + Molly". This song was like cranking a giant trebuchet-- a rising energy all stored for one massive explosion. The energy built slowly, in layers of sound, and retained an extreme tension. This electricity in the air was palpable as I could sense the jam growing & swelling like a boiling vat. The runway for this flight was miles long as Molitz was visibly enjoying just teasing the crowd. When this thing finally came down and that Great Sonic Hammer finally dropped, it was a tempest. Like a tidal wave crashing into the mouth of a volcano. Unbridled shred ecstasy. When the song ended, I felt like I just ran a 10k. It took me a second to realize where I was as I shook the cobwebs and just kept saying, "that was awesome, that was awesome." I looked at my friend Casey and I could tell he said the same thing running through his head. The band left the stage so Amy and I exhaustedly aimed for the door. We had just about reached the door when we heard a cheer. The band was back on stage so I stopped on a dime. I wasn't going to risk missing an "Eye of the Storm" (one of my favorite songs ever). They started up a cover of Stevie Wonder's "Superstition" and although I had wanted to hear them play this, we continued our momentum out the door. If it wasn't "Eye" then we didn't need to chase the night any longer-- our minds had been sufficiently blown.

This show was absolutely amazing and is instantly at the top of my favorite shows of 2010 list. I don't know what happened to Ben Combe but they didn't need him. I guess that revolving door can keep spinning as long as Molitz, Gould, and Pujalet keep surrounding themselves with rabid musical animals. Particle is seriously amazing and I really hope they continue to tour & make incredible music. The world of jamtronica is much better with Particle in it.


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