Words: Sam Lawson | Images: Karum Cooper
After many years of patiently biding my time for the opportunities to see my favourite bands live to present themselves in the form of a local show (local-ish), at last one of my top 10 were going to be performing in Plymouth at The Hub, a venue i’ve been to quite a lot over the last year as well as having had the privilege of playing there myself and it’s starting to grow on me a lot.
Very rarely do progressive metal bands play in Plymouth or Cornwall, in fact it’s almost a non-existent occurrence. All I do know is that the majority of the metal fans in the two areas are still in their Slipknot phase (nothing wrong with that) and that sales figures always fail to stack up in comparison to the bigger cities after a tour is over. The first show I ever saw there was Animals As Leaders, Intervals and Plini and the crowd was great and very enthusiastic so I would like to look back at that moment as the possible penny-drop instance where someone somewhere realised there is a definite market for progressive heavy metal bands in this region. Thank the lord.
First things first then, the opening act. Valis Ablaze are a 5 piece progressive metal band from the Bristol area, just in the space of time they have been on my radar the band have supported Dead Letter Circus, Monuments and on this night in particular, TesseracT. The band were enjoying themselves and so were the people there to see and support them. Sonically speaking the band were a lot more colourful live than on recording. This is a band that at this current stage in time most definitely prefer in a live setting. There were some issues sound wise, the snare drum couldn’t really be heard from where I was stood and at time the guitars blended together so much that it was only really possible to define what I was hearing properly by covering my ears to drown out the excess noise. Their stage presence is notably similar to that of the headlining act, I realised also. Vocalist Phil is a very good live performer and didn’t rely on his backing/harmony tracks as much as many vocalists do these days which I was glad to see. Overall, very impressed by Valis Ablaze as a live act, I would like to see what one of their headline shows on home ground is like.
Moving on to main support act Bad Sign, unfortunately we have no photographs of the bands set due to an SD card corruption.
What I caught of them (not as much as I would have liked) lead me to believe that perhaps they were an odd choice for the billing and the sound wasn’t very clear or concise. Stylistically they stuck out due to being sandwiched between two similar sounding groups, once again the sound wasn’t as clear as I would have liked it to have been but, it’s a rock show after all. The guys played with a ferocity that was nice to see, there was a certain hardcore vibe to it all, in a way. Real crowd pleasers but I just can’t say it kept me all that interested, there was a dulling frequency that just ran throughout the entire setlist non-stop that was very distracting and painful to witness which ruined it for me, personally. Definitely a band worth listening to on record though.
Now, the main event! TesseracT set up their own gear on stage I noticed, I think that’s cool. The majority of them wear black hoodies and whilst any TesseracT obsessive would know who they are regardless of that it seemed to have most of the audienced duped because after they had set up and walked off for a few minutes, guitarist James came back on to fiddle with something and all of a sudden the audience erupted with applause as if they hadn’t seen him before, the worst part is that he wasn’t even wearing one of the hoodies! This crowd had me perplexed for a lot of the night, if i’m honest.
(PS If you just came here to read specifically about the music itself ignore this rant about gig etiquette and assholes touching girls at gigs)
The one guy that decided in his dribbling drunk slurry of shallow interest in music (and strong interest in touching up girls followed by starting on their boyfriends after being asked to stop touching their girlfriends) to approach me before the band started to say “you’re in the mosh pit zone” struck me as a particular breed of twat that you often find at a metal gig, the guy who has heard one song (one time) likely by a different band who he has confused the band he is actually watching with OR someone bought him a ticket as a present in ill-judgement of his character and interests and due to having no mates (because of the whole, massive pervert/asshole thing) he attends these gigs alone, pissed out of his tree. Granted, he was the only one behaving like this to my knowledge. That said, the security team paid absolutely ZERO attention to the fact this way going on, there we fights nearly breaking out in the middle of a crowd in a medium sized music venue and the bouncers and high-up view from a walkway that runs along the right side of the room. Apologies to the females that were harassed from the entire male population of earth for sharing the same chromosomes as that total whambox.
Anyway, back to the matter at hand. The show was definitely a lot more rowdy than I was expecting, having seen quite a lot of progressive/djent/tech bands in the last year or so i’ve noticed that mosh pits aren’t the standard practice at a lot of those types of shows. Sadly, mosh pits never happen for opening or supporting acts and that is basically a universal truth everywhere (gutting, I know) but TesseracT had a very fierce reception from the audience start to finish, I could literally feel my lower half being crushed into the stage for what seemed quite a while.
I won’t lie, I debated not reviewing this show because I am one of the aforementioned TesseracT obsessives who recognised them even with their total Iroquois Pliskin-esque get ups and I felt like no matter what happened I would give it a really positive review and not make any criticisms whatsoever and come off as totally biased and not objective. Luckily, live music doesn’t go that way and neither should journalism, things happen. My biggest complaint about the whole evening is of course certain members of the crowd and the incompetent security staff but we have covered that.
In terms of TesseracT’s performance vs. my expectations there was a healthy and humanistic balance of light disappointment and total elation. As a die hard Dan Tompkins fan, I was taken on quite the journey whilst hearing him sing brand new melodies and really push the pre-existing vocal parts and also singing certain vocal parts either an octave lower or as a lower harmony with his backing track. You hear a LOT of rumours (from shall we say.. twits?) that Dan’s voice is masked live by the backing tracks and even auto tuned during the show. The guy is the real deal, when he is hitting those soaring high notes, he’s actually doing it. I was close enough to just about hear the sounds leaving the guy’s face, it’s as genuine as it gets so that debate is closed now and forever.
However with that said there are lots of moments (notably during songs from the album ‘Altered State’ which Dan didn’t perform on) where the audience find themselves wanting to sing along with their favourite choruses and whatnot but Dan isn’t singing it the same way and it’s throwing people off and from your casual listener to your total nerd, you’ve got an audience lost in the balance from time to time. Of course, it goes without saying that when you’re on tour, you don’t give it 100% every night and if you did, you would destroy your voice. Dan was very conscientious of the crowd and their very enthusiastic energy and when playing a show like that, you can take certain liberties because the audience aren’t going to begrudge your for it whatsoever and fair enough. I would feel guilty if the guy gave it absolutely everything he had vocally that first night and was suffering the next few nights, not a fun place to be.
Instrumentally the band are exactly as you would expect them to be, very colourful and dynamic but also incredibly regulated and perfectly timed due to their intense attention to detail and ensuring that their live shows are strikingly similar to their recorded music, TesseracT are one of the bands at the forefront of having very tight live performances that don’t allow for much in the way of error. Drummer Jay Postones was the only notable exception (beside the vocal part mentioned) of the members playing outside of the recorded material and experimenting with new drum fills and whatnot. The band seemed to be very engaging with the audience but yet very remote and assigned to their location on the stage, commanding their respective 2 foot wide bubbles with conviction.
The setlist was very well structured, my favourite songs minus one were performed so i’m happy and the audience certainly vibed with what was being played. It had a nice ebb and flow about it I found.
Before Valis Ablaze hit the stage much earlier in the night I caught up with James Monteith (Guitar) to ask him a few questions:
I asked James what the importance of having a few TesseracT headline shows on the Devin Townsend tour was:
“I guess, it’s a short run for us and we didn’t really want a day off because a day off is a wasted day essentially. We’d rather be playing a gig than sitting around doing nothing. Secondly we’re getting to go to places where we’ve not been. On one of our major tours you don’t come to Plymouth and you don’t go to Hull and it’s an opportunity for us to go and play to those audience where we wouldn’t normally.”
I wondered as to whether it was also an opportunity to play new music and have more fun playing more songs:
“In honesty, not really. These two shows (Plymouth and Hull) we’re playing a headline set that we actually did in the United States last year. We wanted to road test new material on these dates but none of it’s really ready. In a way it’s quite nice playing shorter sets because it’s less work!” (He was joking, but he’s right).
I wanted to know as to whether any of the tracks from the recently released EP ‘Errai’ would be making it into a live set or whether it was mostly a studio project:
“That was just for an experiment really, we’ve talked about bringing some of the re-interpretations into the set eventually. We did an acoustic EP a while ago, I think when we can afford to do it we’ve talked about throwing in an acoustic rendition of a heavy track. The same can be said for Errai as well, we could put something like that in the set also. It’s definitely something we’re looking at doing in the future, just to mix it up and make it more interesting.”
Onto the topic of setlist and how the band put them together:
“I think we just try and put together stuff that works so rather than chop things up we’ll actually play sections of music; a section of an album or a section including a few tracks that work really well together, that would be our focus. However we still make sure we throw in a couple of tracks that people expect to hear.”
Obligatory cringeworthy question not relevant to anything and just thrown in for the quirk factor; If you could put a band together with any musicians alive or dead, who would be in the band? (I apologise sincerely for thinking this question up at any point during my time on earth to ask an actual musician who has actual stuff to be getting on with):
*Laughing* “I guess i’d put together a metal band, i’d have Dimebag Darrell on guitar just because i’d love to see him play again. Who should we have on bass? Ah fuck I don’t know. I’ll go with Flea on bass cause he’s very entertaining, very funky. Quite wild. Let’s think of a drummer.. I’ll go with someone like Mike Portnoy just because he’s very solid. Have someone like Jeff Buckley on vocals maybe!”
I wanted to know about different rumours that had been circulating the internet recently regarding shows they may or may not be taking part in later this year, so lastly, what’s in store for Tesseract?:
“There’s lots of new music at the moment, hoping to finish a record this year. We don’t know if it will make it out this year but it’s our primary focus. There’s some festivals that we are doing, ArcTanGent in the Summer, Download France and other bits and bobs. Yeah, there may be a tour announced somewhere soon, who knows?”
Overall, the show was fantastic. It breathed life into the Plymouth scene for the evening and that energy will hopefully persist and all the bands performed with heart and soul and I got to tick a few things off of my bucket list so, happy days.
If you made it this far, go and catch TesseracT on tour (if this is out in time) with Devin Townsend and Leprous, across the UK right now and keep your eyes on Bad Sign and Valis Ablaze.
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You can find the shows full gallery here.