On my way to the venue, I saw a punky couple jaywalk. That’s anarchy right there. Metal kids, though? They love structure. They show up early and politely sit through opening acts. Such was the case when Meshuggah came to Philadelphia Fri., May 18 with Baroness and Decapitated.
Just about everyone at the Theatre of Living Arts was there for Meshuggah. I’m not good at “counting” or “facts,” but I’m going to say at least 500 of the 1,000 attendees were wearing the same Meshuggah tour shirt. So it was somewhat surprising they would like any other band on stage.
Then again, maybe not. Decapitated, from Poland, fit in nicely with Meshuggah’s style of technical metal. Blast beats and demonic growls pummeled attendees. Shit was loud, which left Baroness sandwiched as the odd band out.
On record, Baroness’ output has been swirly and sludgy. Live, the Savannah, Ga. outfit is like the metal equivalent of a jam band. While they’re still clearly a metal group, Baroness had a much looser style compared to the other acts. The vocals were way cleaner than anything Decapitated or Meshuggah did as well, but crowd reaction was still pretty positive. It helps that Baroness can play. While the act's recorded output is stellar, Baroness is still very much a live band, and hearing select cuts from Blue Record and Red Album expanded and built upon was, for me, the highlight of the night.
Baroness has a new record coming up, Yellow & Green, which is likely to either earn a whole new mess of fans or polarize the current ones. But the band’s new found interest in more concise, restrained songwriting actually fit in pretty well with older jams like “A Horse Called Gogotha” and “Steel That Sleeps the Eye.” I haven’t heard the album in its entirety yet, but based on the few tunes casually unveiled, such as “Take My Bones Away,” the band might actually be looking to write big, anthemic choruses. Still, these tunes feel like an organic extension of where Baroness has been going for the last few years; the only big difference being that the group hasn’t figured out how to jam out these songs yet. If anything, the only song that felt awkwardly placed was set ender “Isak.” It’s an awesome song, but it kind of petered out near the end, concluding the performance with an ellipses instead of an exclamation point.
While the crowd dug Baroness, people still erupted into cries for Meshuggah once the band wrapped things up. And Meshuggah most assuredly deserves that adoration, as the band brings it live. The stage set up maximized the music’s brutality, with elaborate stage banners and strobe lights constantly blasting the room. The sound levels were super tight--way better than anything I’ve heard in the TLA in quite some time--which definitely came in handy during the band’s lengthy set.
Meshuggah claimed that while new record Koloss was stripped down compared to obZen, that’s because it was meant to be heard live. Or maybe the band just needed four years to perfect the obZen material, because the set drew neatly from both records without any flubbed notes or missed steps. Make no mistake; Meshuggah plays with punishing efficiency.
Of course, all that assault just made the band look a little ridiculous at times. Frontman Jens Kidman’s demonic growls are impressive live, but the dude’s stage moves can only be described as “Hulk Hogan impersonating a wind-up Frankenstein’s monster having an orgasm.” Once you see him for yourself, you’ll know I’m right. Still, Kidman’s goofy demeanor highlighted that while metal can be a goofy genre at times, it’s still an awesome one.