Good thing you all are taking my advice to heart…
Seriously, the most striking thing about TesseracT’s headlining date at Irving Plaza on Thursday was that when Astronoid took the stage at 6:59 (the little overachievers) to start off the evening the floor was PACKED. This wasn’t my first go-round at Irving Plaza, and I’ve been there for some openers where you could spread out and do yoga during the set without disturbing anyone else in attendance. But not Thursday.
Perhaps part of the reason for the solid early turnout was the strength of the openers. I wasn’t familiar at all with Plini, who took the stage second, but Astronoid’s debut LP Air was one of my favorite records of 2016, and I was excited to see how their bizarre sound (equal parts thrash, black metal, and uplifting melody combined into something the band calls “dream thrash”) played out live.
Some good news/bad news. Bad news – the sound was a little out of whack where I was standing, so I had the drums coming in way higher than the guitars. And when the bands triple-guitar attack is a calling point of the music, that’s a bit of a letdown. Good news – because of the odd mix I was able to really hone in on drummer Matt St. Jean’s work, and holy shit that guy is a wizard behind the kit. Nothing about Astronoid’s music comes across as easy to play, but St. Jean was locked in and on point the entire show. He also looked like he was having a fucking blast during the set, playing with the highest of energy and singing along word-for-word with each and every song.
Musically, Astronoid are INCREDIBLY impressive. Their positive spin on black metal (think Ghost Bath on the best day of their collective lives) made for a fun and rowdy set. There really wasn’t a down song in the set, and tracks like “Up and Atom” and “Obsolete” had the place fired up like I’ve seen for few openers.
As awesome as Astronoid’s set was (and trust me, it was fucking awesome”), I do have one small complaint. On Air, the bands vocals appear to be comprised of singer Brett Boland layering multiple tracks to create depth. While that works great on the record, it was a little off-putting during the show when the backing vocals would drown out his live singing. When he reared back and let it rip his voice came through clear as day, but so many of their songs involve a very delicate melody that just didn’t come through clear enough live.
Even so, Astronoid blew away any expectations most people would have for a show opener, and more than lived up to my expectations as someone who was looking forward to seeing them live.
Next up was Australia’s Plini, who is apparently a single Australian guy rather than a British quartet that I thought I saw live. So that’s neat. Plini (full name of Plini Roessler-Holgate) is a one-man band that apparently has an incredible group of touring musicians in his stable, and it was clear to everyone in the audience that they all knew what they hell they were doing. Technically speaking (and for an instrumental band, that’s probably the most important criteria), Plini are right up there with the most impressive instrumental bands I’ve seen live. Animals As Leaders, Polyphia, Russian Circles, you name it. They were right there.
Perhaps more impressive than the band’s technical wizardry was the fantastic banter from Plini himself. He really didn’t speak at all for the first half of the set, and he spent most of the remainder talking about how impersonable he is. But his dry sense of humor (see? Perfect for a Brit) worked wonders with the crowd, who ate up everything he had to offer.
The only area where I can dock Plini is in their overall concept, as the band lays heavily into the Jazz-Fusion subsection of InstruMetal, and that tends to be my least favorite part. Some songs, especially early in the band’s set, just didn’t grab my attention at all. Sure, they were still impressive technically, but there wasn’t a hook to lure me in. But when the band embraced the metal side of their sound the heaviness was absolutely crushing (which provided a nice counter-balance to Astronoid, who even at their heaviest just sound so goddamn happy).
Also, most of TesseracT came out on stage during one of Plini’s tracks to shave a guy’s beard. So there’s that.
I caught TesseracT live for the first time a couple of years ago after they released Polaris when they were opening up for Gojira, so I knew what I was in for. Daniel Tompkins has one of the most powerful singing voices in metal, and he once again floored me with his performance. Even more impressive during their set this time around were the screams he let loose when the band started playing some of their early tracks. They mostly stuck with Polaris when I saw them the first time, so I didn’t get to see them cut loose on the older tracks. Much like their stylistic brothers in The Contortionist, TesseracT seem just as comfortable playing aggressive, ferocious prog bordering on death metal as they do playing their newer, more melodic works. But as much as the crowd seemed to love the new stuff, with tracks from both Polaris and their newest release, Sonder, drawing great reactions, it was the songs from the first couple of albums that whipped the crowd into a frenzy.
While not as technically stunning as both Astronoid and Plini, TesseracT are no slouches at their craft either, and band was in-sync from the moment they took the stage. As one of the pioneering djent bands, TesseracT make the most out of their sound, delivering punished blows during their heavier tracks that gave everyone something to headbang to. Of their newer tracks, “King” probably got the best response, but “Smile” had the crowd going as well. “Luminary”, which opened the set, didn’t land as well as a I would hope, but the rest of the set more than made up for it.
For a band that isn’t all that traditionally “heavy” as far as metal is concerned, the crowd got pretty damn rowdy during the set, even starting something that almost resembled a circle pit (mostly is was just a bunch of dudes occasionally bumping into each other lightly, but hey, they tried). The overall crowd response almost made up for the miserable piece of shit and his obnoxious friend who took up camp behind me and spent the entire set complaining. Just a few targets of their ire:
- Death Metal bands, and their names in particular (they thought that Goatwhore and Decrepit Birth were probably two of the worst bands of all time.
- The lack of women at the show (while that’s usually true for most metal shows, I was actually pretty impressed by the female turnout at the show).
- The audience trying to clap with the beat (granted, I completely agree that people don’t know how to clap to a beat). But this dude let out an audible groan every single fucking time it happened. Fuck right off, buddy. Nobody likes a complainer.
This was a perfect show for my first concert of the year. I’d imagine that after a few months away from my last concert that it would have been a little jarring to go see Full of Hell or Black Fast. But this was as relaxed a metal show that you can find, and each band brought something to the table. A solid start to the concert year.