Sensory Overload: Mike Perkins

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

The band is gone. So is the ponytail. Mike Perkins remains.

Since his long-standing project The Shantee closed up shop four years ago, Perkins has built a devoted audience under his own name, so much so that he's long since dropped "of The Shantee" from the marquee outside Scarlet & Grey Cafe.

Perkins plays the Campus hangout every Wednesday night in one of three weekly residencies. (You can also find him at Hamilton's Pub in Gahanna on Mondays and way out at Boomer's in Mansfield on Tuesdays.)

Never having spent much time with the jam-band scene, I must sheepishly admit that in all his years playing around Ohio, I had never witnessed Perkins in action before last Wednesday. But when I heard Perkins was filming a live DVD at Skully's this Saturday, I knew it was time to take in one of his vaunted sets in order to offer an adequate preview of the occasion.

I entered the Scarlet & Grey to find a clean-cut thirtysomething dude in a designer T-shirt tuning up his guitar and fiddling with a mixing board on stage. Last year Perkins lopped off his ponytail in favor of a short crop, but if his signature look is gone, his signature sound is still firmly intact.

The singer-songwriter is typically backed by bassist John Zuck, but otherwise he relies on a sampler to build loops of his guitar and vocals, creating a canvas of acoustic chords, hand percussion and beatboxing on which to paint his patchouli-scented pop tunes.

I'm usually skeptical of music that attracts flocks of hippies - and believe me, by Perkins' second or third song, the bar was packed with hippies - but this music catered to that crowd without leaving out everybody else. His deep well of songs is accessible but not too dumb and technical without getting too smart.

Case in point: Zuck slaps, pops and shreds more than any bassist I've ever seen. Normally, such antics would be a huge turnoff, but the guy's got enough musical smarts to make sure his nimble fingers serve a purpose beyond mere showmanship.

This Saturday, Perkins and Zuck will transform their mid-week respite into a weekend extravaganza, moving from the cozy confines of their weekly haunts to Skully's big back room.

Perkins is bringing in a professional camera crew to tape the set for a DVD release, so he needs his fans to pack the place. Judging by the devoted throngs that were bobbing and swaying at the Scarlet & Grey on a Wednesday, he ought to have no trouble rounding up a crowd.

Mike Perkins

When: 9 p.m. Saturday, April 11

Where: Skully's, Short North