BOISTEROUS BEAUTIFUL BRITS; BEN BRINGS BACKUP
I’ve only been to Club Red once before, several years ago. At that time, I was seeing a hip hop show in the other room of this odd, two-room venue. Color me surprised when I came to this show and saw that the room was quite a bit larger and more upscale looking than my previous experience. That being said, it ended up being a surprisingly low-key and intimate show.
Animus Complex are a local band from Tempe, AZ. I’d never heard of them before this show, but I’m admittedly less than well-versed in the local music scene. Seconds into their set, it was immediately apparent that I’d been missing out. They are magnitudes more br00tal than I was expecting a band on this bill to be, and the heaviest sounds of the night belonged to them. They reminded me of a heavier Cilice.
As far as the standout aspects, their clean vocalist was the star. He showed an impressive range, and found a way to mesh quite well to the variances in their overall sound. The music and lead vocals were synchronous throughout the set, evolving and fluctuating from song to song. The harsh vocals from the guitarist, however, felt a bit tacked on. They worked, but were just a bit too repetitive to warrant their place. The instrumentation was ultimately more than sufficient, both guitarist and bassist showing some dexterity here and there, but the lead vocalist was definitely the most interesting part of the performance.
About five songs into their set, they went on a little jazzy, syncopated seizure for the intro of a song. While this appeared to lose the crowd a bit, I appreciated the adventurousness of it. They don’t have that ‘thing’ that jumps out and sets them apart from similar sounding bands, but they’re definitely a solid, talented group. I expect to hear more from them.
Cloudkicker (‘Nautkicker’ here, as Intronaut was the backing band to the typically one-man act) was undoubtedly why I was at the show. I was definitely giddy as they took the stage, kicking off with the opening track from Subsume. In front of a projected image of an illuminated Earth, the improbable was taking place directly before me. This unlikely cerberus was born of necessity and a little bit of the collective willpower of internet music nerds (wishing helps, right?). For as much buzz as Cloudkicker’s music got, there was a vocal component of his fans talking about how he needed to put together a band and come and play for them, not content with the gobs of ridiculously good (and free) music he quickly put out. You’d think people would accept the tradeoff of a bedroom musician, where the singular musical voice is a strength in regards to conception, but a weakness in regards to the feasibility of a live show. But no, people wanted Cloudkicker live, and sooner than later. It’s funny, as is the case with a lot of other bands who like to toy with odd time signatures, in a live setting you could actually pick out the fans by their ability to nod their heads on the right beats.
It wasn’t until about four songs in that I realized they hadn’t said a single word to the crowd. Fitting. Being simultaneously unceremonious and riveting is sort of the calling card of Ben Sharp, the man behind Cloudkicker. In the handful of interviews I’ve read, he’s always seemed understated yet affable. For a man who has such a unique musical voice, he really doesn’t say much, preferring to let his music speak for him. Eventually, Sharp says “Oh, hi. Thanks for coming.”, a mere three songs away from the end of the set – and with that, they were off and playing again.
I found myself forgetting to write down my thoughts, simply entranced by what was happening onstage: Cloudkicker live; unfettered and untampered with. The opening track from ]]][[[ detonated the crowd. It was the most substantial emotional reaction from the crowd to that point. Days later, I still feel like I can’t say the right things, or enough things, about Intronaut’s performance backing up Ben Sharp. It was immaculate. Ultimately, it sounded like the record, but livelier. No duh.
After a short break, Intronaut retook the stage as their own. There was a seriousness and gravity to their stage presence almost immediately. Known as intimidating musicians, they were impossibly tight. In that very same room, on that very same stage, that very same band sounded crisper and more predatory than they did while playing Cloudkicker’s material just minutes before.
The serene yet dire mood of their set was impenetrable. They didn’t let up at all the entire time, and I loved it. The vocals were a bit buried, but overall the band just sounded fantastic. Something about how the drums were mic’d (or possibly, how they were played by the immensely talented Danny Walker) gave this sort of tribal or militaristic vibe to a few of the songs. Also, one of Walker’s cymbal stands worked its way into the path of the projector and the shadow of it took over the the right side of the screen. Somehow, it seemed intentional. I suppose it’s a testament to how good they are live that I couldn’t help but question whether or not a pretty obvious blunder wasn’t actually completely calculated.
It felt like their set was over quickly, which was sad. A glance at the clock, however, showed that the they played for a decent amount of time. I suppose my inner clock just didn’t want it to be over yet. As a funny aside, as the members came off stage, Walker appeared to pick up a few barnacles as he walked through the crowd, in the form of two overly-enamored, scantily-clad young women. He didn’t appear to be particularly responsive to their advances, continuing on his path towards the merch table, but they were unfazed. They simply followed and kept talking to him all the way. Rock star problems.
TesseracT built A LOT of anticipation before playing. They stood on stage, setting things up for what seemed like an extravagant amount of time, all the while a tense synth bed played over the speakers. It was as dramatic as it was potentially frustrating. You could feel the crowd pining for them to play. After twelve consecutive eons, they finally began. Instant velvet. Ashe O’Hara has a ridiculously evocative voice, even more sticky sweet live than on record.
To my own delight, the second song the band played was a favorite of mine. While it was originally sung by their previous singer Dan Tompkins, it is more than ably handled by O’Hara. This ship constructed by guitarist Acle Kahney on internet forums forever ago has sailed to some exciting places, and encountered some choppy waters along the way, but during this song it’s made ever more clear to me that they’re as seaworthy as ever (was that analogy too drawn out? If you think so, I invite you to walk the plank or whatever other maritime phrase means “shut up.”).
Definitely impressive showmen, they managed to string together elements of songs from elsewhere in their catalog, crafting a short medley in the middle of a song. It acted as an interlude before coming back at the big outro to the song. Obviously, I have no way of knowing if this is something they do all the time, but it felt spontaneous to me, even though I know something like that doesn’t just happen organically. They managed to make musical misdirection feel spur-of-the-moment.
The groove element that is so prevalent in their sound is even more rousing in person. During sections of their set, the crowd gave in to the rhythm in a way that reminded me of that Lonely Island video, as if marionettes. This band really know how to craft a groove and ride it to perfection.
Interestingly, my biggest gripe of the night came during their set. Betrayed by a bit of knowledge about music production, some of the vocal processing felt heavy-handed. It was just enough digital magic to make me call into question the legitimacy of some of O’Hara’s performance. There were several sections in most songs that featured dense harmonies, and they were so locked in time-wise that I was left to assume that it was live processing, as opposed to pre-recorded backing tracks. This concession begs the question: if they’re already processing his live vocal like that (basically running it through the equivalent of a chorus pedal), who’s to say they’re not doing a bunch of other stuff to it? It’s common enough in live music to use pitch correction and other such techniques to secure a perfect vocal performance, but it’s not something people expect from a band like Tesseract. Is this a potentially petty gripe, given how it’s all but accepted in other forms of live shows? Maybe. But I still don’t like the implications, personally.
Questions of digital trickery aside, I was more than impressed by Tesseract and all of the bands on the bill. All said, I enjoyed the whole show even more than I expected. If this tour comes through your town, you owe it to yourself to come out and get your mind blown.