On its 1998 CD, "Supralingua," Planet Drum is dominated by its namesake instrument, and the lineup that took the stage Wednesday at the State Theatre promised a similar emphasis: Counting singer-keyboardist Rebeca Mauleon--who generated rhythm samples from her synthesizer--six of the eight players were percussionists.
The Afro-Latin-Asian world beat was indeed important to the group, which is led by former Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart, but it didn't seem as overriding to this version of the ensemble as to the one that recorded "Supralingua." With three soulful female vocalists, the current incarnation of Planet Drum suggests the psychedelic funk of '70s Bay Area groups such as Joy of Cooking. The group even performed a hip-hop version of Grateful Dead standard "Fire on the Mountain," with Hart rapping the verses.
Still, the band was most distinctive when dominated by either the collective groove or the spotlighted beats of conga player Giovanni Hidalgo or Hart, who played a computer-enhanced drum kit that allowed him to simulate the tuned-percussion shimmer of marimba and gamelan. The non-percussion solos--whether vocal or guitar--were skillful but less interesting than the passages that achieved a chanting, pulsing whole.