Mutemath, As Tall As Lions
October 29, 2009
Better than: Watching Spinal Tap's Experimental Jazz Odyssey... well, almost better.
It was clear that when Mutemath started its set that it would be playing new songs--lots of 'em. And it was clear that the band was going to have to work hard to win over a capacity crowd that was mostly excited to hear its older stuff.
To their credit, the band members used every trick in the book--from the sing-along of "Noticed" and instrument swapping to cool lights and a backdrop fashioned to look like an old amphitheater.
But, in the end, giving the audience what it wanted was what paid off.
As such, the show started with an old ritual: Drummer Darren King marched out and secured a set of '90s-era headphones to his head with a roll of duct tape. It was a good move on his part--the next 90 minutes would involve his twisting, jumping and shaking.
Next, the band launched into "The Nerve," the first song on its new album, Armistice, which, like most of the new record, is heavy on electronics, big hooks, and bombast. The show was off to a decent start, though, as the band buzz-sawed through a handful of new songs. But it wasn't until they started into "Chaos" that the crowd finally began to respond.
The music wasn't the only thing on display, though. There was an arsenal of lights big enough to divert attention away from even the most mundane new song. A few songs down the set-list featured King on a high-rise with his back to the audience, playing a drumset made of glowing orbs on the back wall. Interesting touches like this kept the high-energy show moving along. The rest of the show featured super-fast drumbeats, a keytar, impeccable DJ Shadow-like grooves, and singer Paul Meany's vocals, which was so much like Sting's you'd wonder if they were related.
The argument of "Style versus Substance" comes to mind, but on a mellowed-out sing-along like "You Are Mine," Mutemath proved to be more than just a flashy light show and acrobatics. It was on this song that the real connection with the audience was made. The band held the crowd in the palm of its hands for the remainder of the show.
The encore ended with crowd favorite, "Reset," a high-energy musical landscape, which allowed them to do all the crazy stuff the audience had been wanting the whole night. Bassist Roy Mitchell Cardenas jumped behind the drumset as Darren King surfed his bass drum over the audience, Monotonix style. Thankfully, he stopped short of any of its more infamous stunts, and no microphones were harmed.
Indeed, on Thursday night, Mutemath proved that hard work on stage pays off. The audience was buzzing all the way to the exits. If only their records were as effective as their live show.
In contrast to Mutemath's controlled, tenacious performance was opener, As Tall As Lions. At the beginning of its set, the band announced that its singer was out due to illness, so it did what every band would do in that situation: Experimental Jazz Odyssey. Only, it was far worse than the one in Spinal Tap.
Awkward transitions, wrong notes, and boring riffs amounted to one of the worst, most self-indulgent jam sessions I've ever seen.
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That band could take a lesson from Mutemath, who cut off even the coolest jam at the four-minute mark.
Personal Bias: I was skeptical of Mutemath going into this show. I've seen the band well over 10 times, but I wasn't sure if its new record would make the same impact as its old stuff. I was right--but they still put on an incredible show.
By The Way: Mutemath started as a Christian band whose main selling point was that it were the Christian 311. Thank God the band's stop aiming for that.
Random Note: Everywhere I went, I was standing between somebody's dad and somebody's youth pastor. The Southern Comfort waitress at the venue had her work cut out for her last night...