Live Report: Meshuggah, Baroness, Decapitated

This tour was officially called The Ophidian Trek, but The One of These Things Is Not Like the Other Tour might have been more accurate. Sweden’s Meshuggah and Poland’s Decapitated both trade in rigid extreme metal and record for Nuclear Blast. Baroness plays metal-ish rock music and has a Relapse contract. Cats and dogs are living together.

Perhaps Meshuggah’s surreal sense of humor was at play. I wouldn’t put it past them to deliberately alienate their fans by inviting a totally non-br00tal band onto the bill. Meshuggah also subjected audiences to a half-hour loop of Rod Stewart’s “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy” before every set on the tour. Most were displeased.

The crowd was surprisingly bro-ish at New York’s Terminal 5, given the sophistication of the lineup. I was reminded that many Meshuggah fans are the kind of people who listen only to Metallica, Tool, Rage Against the Machine, Led Zeppelin, and Meshuggah. The bro component of the crowd got drunker and rowdier than the uniformed metalheads; I saw a number of fights break out among their number.

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Decapitated have returned to the States a number of times since the tragic van accident that derailed their career in 2007. They sound better each time. Their technical death metal translates well onstage, even in the opening position at a large venue — a slot that eats most death metal bands alive.

Though Decapitated’s rhythm section and vocalist have serious skills, guitarist Vogg controlled the show. He was as expressive as he was exacting onstage, and the audience’s attention naturally gravitated toward him. The crowd was thicker around his half of the stage during Decapitated’s set — the better to witness his liquid-metal solos.

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Most folks I know reacted with confusion when this tour’s organizers announced that Baroness would hold the direct-support slot. That confusion manifested itself in the audience behavior during their set. Though some supporters made themselves known, a large proportion of the crowd watched politely from Terminal 5’s many bars.

Baroness’s recent music features a lot of big pop hooks and booming 4/4 backbeats. It’s designed for big clubs and concert halls: the massive PA and natural reverb drive home the pulse of the songs. Unfortunately, the sound at Terminal 5 also highlighted frontman John Baizley’s increasingly prominent voice. Like Mastodon’s Brent Hinds, he is a singer who might do well to back a few steps away from the limelight.

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Most metal bands experience a tradeoff between technicality and live impact. The bigger and dumber a riff is, the better it sounds through massive speakers to a crowd of drunk people. More baroque fare tends to lose the audience or collapse into shoddily-mixed goop.

Meshuggah’s music is extremely technical, but it suffers no such disadvantages in the live setting. When I reviewed Koloss, I mentioned Meshuggah’s sneaky accessibility. Nowhere is this
accessibility more evident than at one of their shows. Their repetitive songwriting, so often derided as monotonous by critics, became monolithic when blasted over a monster PA. Everybody in the building convulsed to Tomas Haake’s beats.

Meshuggah’s pure rhythmic force carried much of the burden of their set. The musicians were left to focus on their performances, which they executed flawlessly. At times, I forgot that the band were actually playing live; the music was robotically precise. This effect became especially pronounced when the stage spots backlit the band, silhouetting them before their musical machinery. And this machinery defines Meshuggah almost more than the band members themselves do: an unyielding, exact force, larger and stronger than any mere human.

— Doug Moore

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