A lot of times I will try to manage my time so carefully and purposefully that I estimate my depart-for-the-venue time in such a way as to miss the opening bands – on purpose. I did this last night at the MUTEMATH Odd Soul Tour date in Austin at the infamous Stubb’s BBQ joint that serves as a spectator-friendly outdoor venue for mid-to-large shows. I didn’t immediately recognize the name of the band, so I figured I wouldn’t miss much. After arriving and taking a little trip to the merch table to gander at the new shirts and stuff I saw a set times posting. Turns out Canon Blue would not go on for a few more minutes. If the band wasn’t good, my estimations would have failed me and I’ll have to sit through a set just biding my time.
While at the merch tables I looked at Canon Blue’s stuff. I flipped their vinyl full-length over and read the “thank you” credits. I saw names like Chris York and Paper Route on there, along with another Nashville reference or two and then I knew I might be glad I came in time.
The good news is that I was pleasantly surprised. Canon Blue is a really good band – very good. It was a pretty good match for a MUTEMATH bill, as their rock music had a lot of pop bounce to it, but it was textured in a way that made it more interesting – on a lot of levels. It was a four-piece band and they all stayed busy. There was a guitar player that sometimes fidgeted with a small keyboard setup on a cabinet to his right. The bass player handled all the vocals – save for a few tasty BGVs by the keyboard/piano player. Their drummer was in the back, keeping a steady beat that you could dance to if you wanted.
They played a bouncing, lilting pop with lots of vocal layers. The guitarist added gentle harmonies with the keyboardist that were part Beach Boys and part Anathallo, I guess. Just really pretty and soft harmonies that added to the songs. The band used lots of long, building intros and didn’t waste a moment on the stage, which was a performance habit that would be the standard for the whole night. They ended with a nice song called “Chicago” and then they were done. It was sure nice to discover a hot new band (with two albums under their belt).
As a special surprise entrance, MUTEMATH came marching through the crowd with their marching/parade drums and a beat pad held high. Then they quickly plugged in, while Darren King wrapped headphones onto his head with duct tape and they stormed right into the off-kilter, distorted thumps of “Odd Soul,” which set the tone for the rest of the evening. After playing “Blood Pressure” they launched into “Spotlight,” and then they took their first tiny break to catch their breath, greeting the audience and announcing that, “As promised, we will play you all the songs from Odd Soul.” This was some information that I appreciated hearing. I think their new album is pretty spectacular and it seemed fitting to focus on brand new material when the band was breaking in their new guitarist, Todd Gummerman. “As an added bonus,” Paul Meany smiled, “we will also perform numerous selections from our other albums.”
There was a giant backdrop that had giant corrugated folds, kind of like a folding 20-feet-tall modesty screen in a dressing room. It appeared to be made of thick plywood and covered with thick material. Whatever it was made of, it was lit up with a projector that splashed laser lights that framed the structure, lit it all up or danced moving images up there. A nice creative touch on an oft-used concert dressing… During “Tell Your Heart Heads Up” it flashed close-up images of the band that must’ve been captured by small web cams mounted on pianos, amps and the drumset. The player close-up views were awesome. It showed some nice and trippy blobs and other microscopic eye candy during “Allies.”
The show was a constantly flowing cascade of melodies or droning fills that really kept up a brisk pace – but without feeling like we were being rushed. It was quite fulfilling. By watching closely I was able to determine how some of the sounds from the new record were made. First I noticed that some of those low-end fat noises were made by the guitar. During “Clipping” the bassist, Roy Mitchell-Cardenas, plays keys along with Meany. Then he starts playing a hollow-body guitar with a violin bow, while Meany sings about “anymore – I don’t know who to fight anymore, I don’t know what is right anymore – anymore!”
Meany pulls out his keytar during “Plan B” and stays busy with it. He bangs out the last couple of piano chords with his raised foot. “Calvalries” set up a nice atmospheric wall of sound with that big, droning bass. MUTEMATH does a great job creating “feel” and what’s got to be improvisation. They’re like great blues or jazz masters that really get it – plus they add an acid rock and straight-up rock vibe.
During “Obsolete” Meany joins Mitchell-Cardenas and a standing King as they all slub away at various floor toms and cymbals. Then they flowed into “Walking Paranoia,” which really thumped loud. The studio version is great, but live it really reaches its potential. The new guy, Todd Gummerman adds some really nice high BGVs – a lot of “ooh-hooo’s” near the end of “Stall Out.”
Meany’s voice stands tall and clear and carries nice over the sonic bed they create. It really commanded center-stage attention during the slower number “No Time,” where he sat on the piano and he carefully pronounced syllables and let each line of each verse with patience. The melodies are sweet in both the lower tempo and more upbeat tunes, like “Picture.” The music makes you want to dance and the melodies make you want to sing along. Move over Coldplay, you’ve been lapped.
The band moves from song to song so seamlessly and fast that time seems to disappear. “The is the second night of the Odd Soul Tour,” Meany announces, and it’s going so smooth that it’ll be scary how good this will sound in another week or two. After “Chaos” Meany stands up on a riser at center stage that walks over the pit and he starts punching a drum/beatpad. Then he stands up with just a mic for “Equals,” which revealed another mystery sound for me. Mitchell-Cardenas strums a hollow-body guitar for those big, fat tones that almost chime with the behind-the-bridge tautness. It’s a crazy, cool sound. He stays on the guitar for “All Or Nothing,” while Gummerman gets on the piano for another song that stretches into a long section with a nice mesmerizing feel.
The long segues between songs keep up a building feel that carries the audience with it. Meany croons the intro to “Control” by repeating the phrase, “Such a beautiful surrender.” It was a very different start to “Control,” which usually relies upon the blips and buzzes to wander into the first verse. Nice touch. Meany hunches over his piano during this tune like Schroder from Peanuts punching out those notes.
When the band started up the opening to “Break The Same,” I wondered, “How will this work? What will they do?” Normally it’s the start of a deconstruction that you’ll never forget, but it was highlighted by former guitarist Greg Hill picking up his effects/pedal board and playing it like an instrument. While Gummerman did pull off that trick during the song, the band changed it up entirely by swinging into “Quarantine” midway through the song. Wow. That was a surprise. It sounded great. And then Meany did many a handstand on his organ, which would make Elton John so proud, holding his inverted body up for a second before he swung back down to earth. It’s a fun moment in the middle of several fun and “watch this!” moments.
Then Meany took it to the next level. A giant inflatable mattress appeared out of nowhere at the edge of the stage. They tossed it upon the raised hands of the crowd awaiting and it rested there like a landing pad. Meany then hurled himself into the air and onto the mattress, which was a good two-feet think and trimmed with decorative and flashing lights. He sat up on his knees and sang the rest of the song on his wireless mic. The crowd moved like a well-rehearsed stagehand, passing the floating mattress back through the crowded outdoor audience at Stubb’s. It was packed all the way to the back, which stretches a good 50 yards or so. His floating platform took him out about halfway, where he never missed a note while the crowd roared with astonished approval. Then the mattress came back towards the stage. As it got close he tilted the thing with his weight and slid off into the crowd, which caught him of course – all the while singing the fast-tempo’d verses of “Quarantine.” Amazing.
Oh, another fun thing for this reviewer was that I whipped out my cell phone and videotaped some of this crowd surfing fun. I uploaded it on YouTube while the band was playing its first encore – “Reset.” Thanks to a good 3G signal, that video was posted before the band was done playing. How’s that for immediate technology?
During “Reset” the cameras came on and splashed giant close-ups of the various band members on the screen behind. Whoever was editing the different camera angles was doing a great job of keeping it moving and captivating at the same time. “Reset” gave way to “Collapse” and it was all a killer ending to a great show. I wondered, though, “Will they skip their biggest single, “Typical?” Meany jumped on his organ with keytar in hand and plucked the first few chords as if to answer my question. The crowd responded with a roar and “Typical” was going to end this 90+ minute set. Gummerman climbed on top of the organ, played a few chords and did his own leap, kick and landing. Welcome to MUTEMATH, Todd.
Not yet done with taking things further, Meany, dropped into the pit and walked around through the crowd with his wireless mic. With a big smile on his face, he waslked through the crowd, high-fiving when he could as he sang. He went from one side to the other and then back on stage where a satisfied band played its last notes and then took a bow.
Wow. MUTEMATH has rebounded after losing a core band member and they dominated and killed it in such dominating fashion that there was no room for doubt.
Copyright © 2012 HM Magazine. All rights reserved.
** more photos will be posted soon. I have to rush off to an August Burns Red/Texas in July concert tonight and didn’t have enough time to write this review and cull through my 572 pics from last night. I’ll get back to this asap.