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Review Mon Nov 09 2015

TesseracT Shows Why They're Progressive Metal Gods at Bottom Lounge


I've been to metal shows before, but last night at Bottom Lounge was my first time reviewing one. As it turns out, I had an important lesson to learn: trying to take notes in a mosh pit is pointless. You need your elbows for protection, and anything you attempt to scribble down comes out looking like a kindergartener's worst work. So I'm relying entirely on my memory to recount the events of TesseracT's show--fortunately, though, it was filled with memorable moments.

Skyharbor, an ex-side project of TesseracT vocalist Dan Tompkins now fronted by Eric Emery, took the stage first to a surprisingly vocal reaction from the crowd (no doubt because of the Tompkins connection). The Indian band's style fits neatly into the melodic progressive metal that TesseracT has made famous, but with even more focus on melody and less on intricate rhythm--at times, Emery's singing verged on the overly melodramatic, particularly on the song "Patience." The energy the band brought was commensurate with an opener, but it seemed to stem mostly from the fact that this was Skyharbor's first U.S. tour and they were incredibly excited; there wasn't a deliberate effort to create a presence, perhaps because the band doesn't yet know what they want that presence to be. There's potential, but it will take some crafting, and probably less of bassist Krishna Jhaveri climbing atop the ego risers and dwarfing Emery onstage.

ERRA came next and I was a little confused as to why they had been added to the bill; their metalcore differs vastly from the other three bands' music, featuring a devotion to pop structure and 4/4-time signature that would cause prog snobs to chuckle pretentiously. The vocal split between frontman/screamer Ian Eubanks and guitarist/singer Jesse Cash sometimes felt a little forced, Eubanks trying a bit too hard on his growls and Cash's incredibly high register coming across as absurd. That said, ERRA's performance was more about creating a party, and in that respect they succeeded. Eubanks did a nice job engaging the crowd and using the full reach of the stage, and he made a particularly good decision when he spotted two guys dressed as the Super Bowl sharks in the crowd and pointed them out to everyone. Naturally, the two sharks started the first mosh pit of the evening, enhancing ERRA's music and making it nearly impossible for me to take any notes (honestly, it felt liberating).


After ERRA departed, The Contortionist drastically altered the mood of the evening. Though they created remarkable ambient textures and showcased their musical leadership in progressive metal with outstanding riffs and rhythms, their live show was entirely predicated on the presence of Michael Lessard, the most distinctive frontman I've ever seen. His stage demeanor starts with his eyes, which maintain a thousand-yard stare whether they're directed at the audience or some remote spot on the back wall of the room. It's as if he's gazing directly into some ethereal plane invisible to the rest of us, a demon world that inspires his glitching, stumbling dance moves, his dominant vocals (both clean and screamed), and his truly creepy mumbling between songs, and the point of The Contortionist's performance is for Lessard to try to communicate these visions to the audience. His bandmates, arranged in a loose arc around him, were each lost in their own musical world, only gaining the spotlight during the guitar solos on "Flourish," the only song the band played that wasn't from their standout 2014 album Language. It also happened to be the pinnacle of manic energy from the crowd, the point at which the inevitable shoving forward began--doubtless due in part to Lessard's primal growls. At the end of The Contortionist's performance, he thanked the crowd (the only time he addressed it all evening) and the band walking off stage to chants of "One more song!" Given their transfixing live performance and their outstanding music, this will probably be the last time the band opens on a tour; they'll be headlining soon.

It took an absurdly long time for TesseracT to take the stage after The Contortionist's set ended, a wait that felt even longer because the house lights remained off and ambient synths filled the room with growing unease. Chants of "Tes-ser-act!" were eventually replaced by chants of "What the fuck!" But at long last, the band took its place to a hearty roar and launched into "Dystopia," the first track from their new album Polaris. Arrayed in a line across the front of the stage, guitarists Acle Kahney and James Monteith and bassist Amos Williams carried themselves with gravitas, grooving in slow motion to the polyrhythmic music and occasionally tossing their long hair out of their faces. For the most part, the crowd followed their lead--you can't exactly dance to songs with so many layers--but Dan Tompkins' return to the band (he was replaced by Ashe O'Hara for 2013's Altered State) provided an opportunity for some growled throwbacks to the band's debut album One, all of which threw people into a moshing, shoving, elbow-flying frenzy. At one point, one of the Super Bowl sharks crowd surfed his way onto the stage and promptly sprinted off to one side, prompting an amused reaction from Tompkins.


I was most intrigued to see how TesseracT would pull off songs from Altered State, which received critical acclaim in large part due to O'Hara soaring vocal hooks that lie on the very edges of Tompkins' vocal range. It definitely showed, with Tompkins having to resort to a falsetto or sing in a lower octave that reduced his power, but because the songs were so catchy (by progressive metal standards), the crowd knew every word and was able to help out. Tompkins actually thanked the crowd for singing along to "Of Matter--Retrospect," clearly the most difficult song for him. He made it up to them by spraying them with bottled water and attacking the rest of the set with an elegant, contagious intensity. Standing out was "Survival," the band's most recent single, which features a tour-de-force vocal performance by Tompkins and some of the best combinations of rhythmic work and melodic hooks the band has ever written.

I somehow ended up nearly at the front of the crowd by the end of the set--the key in the heaving crowd is to always lean forward--and thus got to witness a barbaric fight over drummer Jay Postones' sticks, which he had thrown into the audience at the end of TesseracT's performance. The fact that a piece of wood could inspire such emotion is indicative of the effect that the band's music had on those assembled; soaring, screaming, swaying, head-bobbing to irregular beats, everyone had access to the unlocked Pandora's box of primal cosmic energy TesseracT unleashed.

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Max / November 10, 2015 3:18 PM

I was really hoping someone else would be able to explain to me what Erra was doing there, but I am glad to know I wasn't the only one confused. I protested their presence by taking one hell of a dump during their set.

Stephen / November 10, 2015 9:42 PM

I was involed in the "barbaric " drumstick scuffle. I would say it was a bit friendlier then that since it ended with us playing rock,paper,scissors and hugging it out. Nevertheless this show was full of energy and a fantastic one at that.

Zach BlumenfeldAuthor Profile Page / November 12, 2015 4:44 AM

Now that you mention it, I remember that I actually witnessed the rock paper scissors at the end, and I loved that. Can't deny that the beginning was like feral dogs fighting over a steak, though :)

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

Our Final Transmission Days

By The Gapers Block Transmission Staff

Transmission staffers share their most cherished memories and moments while writing for Gapers Block.

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  Chicago Music Media

Alarm Magazine
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Can You See The Sunset From The Southside
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