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Tera Melos at the 7th Street Entry – April 24, 2013

30 Apr

By: Connor McDaniel

“Math Rock” is a hard genre to define, particularly these days.  For a long while, merely  displaying any technical capabilities in a “punk” format (see: NoMeansNo, RKL, etc) was enough to get a foot in the door, but the game seems to have changed.  I was first introduced to the genre by Temporary Residence’s “By The End Of Tonight” at age 13 and progressed from there.  They ended up being something of an outlier in the genre, but introduced me to a good number of other bands, the best of the bunch being Tera Melos, easily.  With a unique sense of humor and the ability to not only maintain fantastic energy with their technicality (never flaunting it), the group easily differentiated themselves from the pack.

These days Math Rock seems to simply mean “using that crazy tapping technique” and changing time signatures now and then.  Hell, there are even tutorials online on “how to play math rock” as if it has become that formulaic.  Well, perhaps it has.  My greatest worry with Tera Melos is that they would fall into the same pitfalls of their contemporaries, something that seemed very easy to do.  Last week’s show at the 7th Street showed, with incredible clarity, that such was not to be the case.

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Opening was Self-Evident, a group that could count themselves as a peer to some of the early bands of this current wave of Math Rock.  It’s fortunate that they formed so early in the scene, because if this band had been playing new material I would have been horrified.  Their material was all incredibly dated, not intricate enough to keep up with current trends by any means, but not unique enough to differentiate themselves in any other way.  Their music went from interesting instrumental passage straight into melancholic and “emotive” (read: emo (read: tired and old)) post-punk clean channel nonsense, borrowing from the most boring bands of the 90s.

If it were not for the stage presence of Tom Berg (Bass) and some highlights of “rhythmic interplay” (their words, not mine) their set would have been for naught.  Berg held the band together while Conrad Mach (Guitar) sang what could have been some of the most amelodic passages since atonality was discovered.  This band quite aptly showcased what I worried could become of Tera Melos, occasionally interesting ideas slaughtered by completely uninteresting vocals and post-rock derivative sections that only serve to slow things down further.

The turnout for the night was as eclectic as ever, but as This Town Needs Guns prepared to take the stage, things got a bit odd.  I had been confused as to what TTNG sounded like before they began playing.  I remember listening to them before, but couldn’t remember if they were “that one sort of mathy band with the scene band vocals” or “that one nutball instrumental band that had nine minute long songs.”  Much to my chagrin, it was the former.  I was wondering why the one guy that only liked Avenged Sevenfold in high school showed up, the guy that liked American Football, and a good dozen girls still trying to keep the “neon scene” years alive with ridiculous blonde hair.

The group took the stage, and the first thing I noticed (other than their British accents) was the vocalists’ six string bass guitar. Not a good sign. Yeah, they were the band with the scene vocals.  Clean guitar over clean vocals.  Obviously there is nothing inherently wrong with that, but I can’t stand it personally.  Sure, you can mix up the time signatures a bunch, sure you can add some wacky tapping over the top, but at its core you’re still playing music that was tired in 1999.  People try to tell me “emo” in the 90s stood for just being emotional, not all of the baggage tied to the word now, but the connection between the two is quite clear.  While the band was playing there was much more talk about how “cool” the guitar player was and how he was going to blow everyone away, while the substance and core of the music didn’t get much attention.  Besides, how much “emotion” can you express without even raising your voice?  To this day, whining is a very apt description of this style.  Why this genre didn’t die completely in the 90s is completely beyond my comprehension.  Obviously, the songs are competently written and they are incredible musicians, technically, all around, but there’s no emotion (ironically).  Suffice to say, they’re not my bag.

Anyway, a double whammy of suck was served at the end of TTNG’s set as it was announced that Tera Melos had been robbed at gunpoint. Luckily, only a phone was stolen, but it did mean we had to suffer through one more TTNG song so I count it as an overall loss.  With that over and with the caked up scene kids out of the venue for the most part, the remaining crowd witnessed Tera Melos’ set up, which most notably included a massive “hot dog man” being set in the middle of the stage and a Freddy Kruger scarecrow-type thing hanging stage left.

After a brief description of the thief as told by Nick Reinhart (“some worthless piece of gristled shit…”) the show began.  The set consisted almost entirely of material from their new record.  I have to admit that I confused some of the performances of the ambient songs on “X’ed Out” as just pauses for Reinhart to get in tune or something, but when they launched into their more “proper” songs, it was a sight and sound to behold.  “Sunburn” played as a blazing fast surf rock song with some math that was so catchy I wasn’t sure if it was a cover or not.  The only songs from their back catalog they played were “Trident Tail,” a personal favorite of mine, and “The Skin Surf.”  It had been mentioned earlier in the show that Tera Melos was performing their set slightly different live than on record (as has always been the case, particularly during their early days) and while they did not wander astray as much as I was expecting, the small variations and improvisations were very well executed.

As a band, despite what happened only an hour or so earlier, they were spot on.  Flawless technically and more spirit and energy than the first two bands combined.  Despite the fair number of people who had left, by the time they had finished the crowd wanted an encore, and Tera Melos delivered.  I have to admit I don’t even remember what song it was (Party With Gina?  Hmm…) but it served as an apt ending to the night regardless.  So here’s to Tera Melos, and their future endeavors.  To be honest, I had my doubts going into the show (the only tracks I had heard from X’ed Out were the more experimental pieces) but at the 7th Street Tera Melos showed that their new material works, at the very least, live.

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