Mute Math: The Rave Bar, 4-3-07

Sun Apr 22 2007

Since the release of its excellent debut album last year, New Orleans’ Mute Math has been touring relentlessly across the country, the best method of self-promotion without risking a payola scandal. It’s not as though the group hasn’t had help from major media entities (the single “Plan B” was a free download of the week on iTunes), but Mute Math is in somewhat of a genre grey area. Its sound combines elements of post-rock, synth-pop, jazz, dub, and punk into a package that’s all pop but impossible to pigeonhole, resulting in bookings at Warped Tour and The Fray, Mute Math is headlining small club shows with two indie buzz bands in tow. It was as good a chance as any to get a glimpse of one possible future of rock music as we know it.

The show must have actually started right on time, and with no unpublicized local opener (as is common at the Rave), so I completely missed the Cinematics. Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin started out like That Indie Band, seemingly more distracted than detached, complete with believable heartbreak and lackluster, sloppy melodies. But the band gained confidence as its set progressed, and by the time the drummer switched to guitar and vox for the last few tunes, the songs were tighter and the various jangles pulled together into a unit. It was a good recovery and ultimately a rousing set.

Mute Math played to an enthusiastic crowd near capacity, opening with an extended version of the instrumental “Collapse” which showcased drummer Darren King from the get-go; his kit at the front of the stage should’ve tipped everyone off, but his performance propelled the set from beat one. The emergence of “Typical” revealed Paul Meany’s vocals were weak in the mix, which seemed inappropriate given their prominence on record, but the band played through this and continued with a stunning “Chaos,” complete with a Reggatta De Blanc-era Police extended breakdown during the bridge that served to ratchet up the tension slowly and tightly; Meany’s reverb-soaked keys hypnotized in synch with Roy Mitchell-Cardena’s bass, while Greg Hill’s guitar meandered closer and closer to the edge à la Mogwai on a retro-shoegazer spree. The song’s payoff is no release; its a cliffhanger, and the audience got its relief in “Photograph,” a song very reminiscent of Lake Trout, a perfect pop song for the more adventurous music lover.

Next, the group tried out a new tune; the light show was really beginning to come into its own, with blazing white heat coils for a backdrop and swirling beams criss-crossing the stage. The song was all about its rhythm, developing from primitive to modern, emoting feverishly and then dissolving into atmospheric haze, all seamless and natural. The set continued to alternate between surging energy and subtle ballads, the players proving adept at all manner of moods, but it became painfully clear during the ecstatic “Control” that Meany’s voice had not held up over the punishing tour schedule; his stage antics began to get a little histrionic in overcompensation, but it was all absorbed by the fantastic playing of every member. Aside from being a bit overeager, perhaps, they did not play like a band that had released only one album. Starting with great songs is key, but the songs were vibrant, evolving with the band, stunning curious newcomers as well as those who knew them. The set ended with an incredible performance of “Break The Same,” which screamed to multiple climaxes, ending with an extended percussion/electronics jam that involved the drum kit being partially dismantled while played; it smacked of Radiohead, only less rigid. For an encore, the band stretched out on “Reset,” the instrumental album-closer, which was all over the place; the band members managed to create a gorgeous din that never got so anarchic that it wasn’t loads of fun. It was an extremely happy and spent crowd that left the room, chatting excitedly after mobbing the merch table. There’s no denying expectations of great things from Mute Math; pop music needs a band like this, to shine a light on the brilliance that gets lost in the wake of more marketable candy. This band has a genuine sound that has higher ambitions than to be marginalized and name-dropped; it wants to take over the world, and a performance like this makes people believe it could actually happen.

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