Thursday, May 17, 2012

Mutemath - Live @ The Corner, May 15

You can read an edit of the following review over at Tone Deaf, but for the purists (and in the spirit of Mutemath's extended live show) the following is a slightly longer version. Enjoy.

As the lights dimmed on a sold-out crowd, packed to the rafters for Mutemath’s virgin performance to not only Melbourne, but Australia; necks craned between the shoulder-to-shoulder masses to get a peep of the band emerging on stage.

Instead, they marched in from the back corner of the venue, where The Cairos had just finished their rocking support slot, under a parade of fairy lights and clattering percussion.

A special entrance that signposted the magic to come.
Once on-stage, the newly-bearded drummer Darren King performed his ritual of taping his monitors to his head, making him look like a boxer before a match; or in Mutemath’s case, a title fight considering the blistering endurance of their live show.

Later frontman Paul Meany declares “we’ve got a lot of songs to play,” and he’s not kidding, in what turns out to be a 26-strong setlist that went for nearly two hours without a break. Including everything except the Jamiroquai-fronting-Zeppelin fireworks of ‘Allies,’ but it’d have been churlish to complain given the vibrant musicality and passionate delivery on display.

The New Orleans group wasted no time launching into the same brilliant trifecta that opens their latest record, Odd Soul. Namely, wowing the awed crowd with the title track, the relentless groove of ‘Prytania’ and ‘Blood Pressure.’ It went a long way to loosening up the crowd with an extended coda of rhythmic hammering that first demonstrated the sheer knuckle-white tightness of the quartet.

So watertight is their synergy that it makes their daring leaps of style and mood look easy, or more philosophically, an audience trusts a band who trusts each other. Allowing Mutemath to hop from searing prog-lite rockers (Plan B, Walking Paranoia) to slow, moody numbers (Lost Year, Picture) and even some experimental moments. Particularly on the reggae-inflected ‘Peculiar People’ where Meany samples the audience’s cheers before looping, pitch-shifting and throwing them back into the mix.

Though always an able keys player and soul-tinged singer, Meany has now evolved into quite the showman. Between-song he charms with affable banter, while during ‘Spotlight’ he leads the audience through some I sing/you sing theatrics which, by the end, have the crowd eating out of the palm of his hand.

Though Meany admits “it’s becoming a cliché” they dedicate ‘Sun Ray’ to the recently deceased Adam ‘MCA’ Yauch. Not more than a beautiful two minute mood piece on record, live, ‘Sun Ray’ - like most compositions tonight - is stretched into a meatily satisfying display of technical chops and irresistible groove.

Equals,’another highlight, finds the frontman wading out to the sound desk, where he sings emphatically over the electronically flourished ballad as confetti is blown out around him.
Though he is the audience’s conduit, it is the rhythm section of King and Roy Mitchell-Cárdenas that steal the show. That’s not to take away from Meany or guitarist Todd Gunnery’s deft contributions, but there’s no doubting the rhythmic heart that beats ferociously at the centre of Mutemath belongs to the bass and drums.

King’s beats snake and shuffle in the background when required but he’s an absolute monster on the skins when he wants to be. Meanwhile, Mitchell-Cárdenas’ basslines look spidery, but sound buttery-smooth; or as it demands it, punch with a satisfying pop and crunch.
Given that he looked like a young Walter Becker (of Steely Dan), combined with the faint waft of pot in the air and the band’s fierce blues  rock, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d been teleported to a seventies night-club. Disregarding the bobbing sea of smartphone screens attempting to capture the band’s explosive playing.

As they careen through their set, you catch snatches of their influences. Are they a psychedelic funk band playing loose blues? A jazz-rock outfit with more groove than grit? It’s hard to tell, and it matters little. It's a thoroughly joyful fusion.

The middle of their set sees them steering towards their older material, and by association some of their Coldplay-baiting ballads like ‘Control or the lingering influence of The Police on fan-favourites like ‘Chaos’ and the high-speed ‘Noticed.’

Their strongest material however, is easily the genre-defying alchemy they’ve achieved with Odd Soul, or what Meany described in our recent interview as “just acing what we do live.
Songs with frameworks that are compact enough to digest, yet possess a flexible structure that exercise their improvisational skills.

Cavalries’’ chugging back-end is elongated to a muscular jam that lurches around sharp rhythmic corners, King even standing on his kit as a valve-release to their infectious energy.
Meanwhile ‘One More’ and ‘Quarantine’ see them pulling out every trick they’ve got. The latter even sees Meany risking his safety as he boards a makeshift raft that floats across a sea of audience hands. At one point, some eager punters ignore the low-roof, sending the singer’s head into the lighting rig. But like a true hero, he soldiers on unhindered.

Seconds later and King is dismantling his kit, piece by piece, to redistribute it to the front row for a brief but incendiary solo, then reconvening the band around his fragmented drums for a full percussive meltdown.

Their encore includes a reading of Alicia Keys’ ‘Falling’ as a psychelicious blues standard, followed by the sprawling instrumental opus of ‘Reset.’ The resulting answer to ‘what If Sigur Rós were a funk troupe with a penchant for glitchtronica?’

As they depart the stage in a sweaty heap, Mutemath have earned the adoration and respect of all present, but also the title: ‘must-see live act’.


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