Sometimes, music gets under your skin, grabs hold of your bones and refuses to let go.
Seven years ago, before YouTube had ads, the music video for Mutemath‘s “Typical” was, without a doubt, the weirdest thing I had ever seen. On Sunday, Oct. 8, 2017, I saw it performed live for the second time. The song remains one of the weirdest (and most brilliant) things that I have ever seen.
That jarring brilliance made its presence known when alternative group Mutemath returned to Tulsa, OK, and unleashed an electrifying performance at The Brady Theater on their Play Dead Live tour. Joined by the Irish Canadian group Romes and Tennessee favorite Colony House, Mutemath proved that change can be a good thing.
In a previous article, I express my thoughts on Darren King‘s sudden and unexpected departure from the group. Since then, I have also learned that bassist Roy Mitchell-Cardenas also made the decision not to continue touring after the release of “Play Dead”, making him the third member to step away following former guitarist Greg Hill’s parting in 2010. In the article, I state that the group’s music is “something to absorb and experience.” I believe that remains true despite the bombshell that was dropped shortly before the tour began.
As with every Mutemath album, “Play Dead” is a unique and unusual creature one can enjoy along with the previous works or as a stand-alone album. It did not appeal to all listeners, of course, and I will admit that it took me a few tries before I could connect to the rhythm. I was incredibly eager to see how the deeply intense grooves and achingly meaningful lyrics translated to a live performance.
I was not disappointed. The venue was full of fans, both local and travelers of all ages. Just like my first experience seeing them live at the famous Cain’s Ballroom, I managed to get as close to the front as possible, fully prepared to deal with the sore feet and bruises that would result. I knew that the phenomenal experience we were in for would be worth it. Romes, a group of four from Toronto, opened up with a bone-rattling intensity that one might have expected from veteran rockers rather than a young group whose debut album dropped only days prior. Band members Jacob Alexander, Nicolas Amadeus, James Tebbitt and Andrew Keyes are a force to be reckoned with. I was hooked from the first number. At the end of the night, I had the opportunity to chat with Andrew, their absurdly charming bassist, and I resolved to try their album for myself.
In addition to becoming a fan of Romes, I was also blown away by Colony House. The Tennessee gang was a crowd favorite and with good reason. Led by front man Caleb Chapman, his drummer brother Will Chapman (sons of world famous Steven Curtis Chapman), and guitarist and bassist Scott Mills and Parke Cottrell, the group of four followed Romes’ performance with infectious recklessness. The raw, uncompressed vocal delivery and genuine energy left me with goosebumps. I can sincerely say that I would not hesitate to see them live again … and pester all of my friends about listening to their music.
Though any rock-and-roll lover would have left satisfied after the two opening acts, I firmly believe in saving room for dessert. Dressed in all white, Mutemath delivered the musical equivalent of a buffet.
Perhaps one of the most fascinating things about Mutemath is how intensely unapologetic their music is. Either you like it or you don’t. Either you are moved or you are not. In an interview with Billboard, Meany discusses the challenges and freedoms that came with producing “Play Dead,” the group’s second independent album. The interview dips into what the group went through earlier this year when David “Hutch” Hutchinson, whom Meany worked with fifteen years ago, stepped in as drummer for King. Bassist Jonathan Allen is now touring in place of Cardenas, joining guitarist Todd Gummerman. Simply referring to the members by their roles (drummer, guitarist, bassist, singer/keyboardist) does not truly convey the importance of what they do as a group.
“There’s this deep-seeded chemistry, I think, that never went away,” said Meany. “[…] I find myself feeling sort of appreciative for this strange twist in fat
That chemistry becomes incredibly apparent with their live performances. High energy, intensity and unflinching sincerity reign supreme. And then there’s the dancing. Oh, the dancing. It would be very easy to describe Paul Meany as “spastic” or “manic” in the most delightful way. You won’t find any careful choreography here. Meany managed to come just shy of rolling around on the floor and it was impossible not to move with him. At one point, his young daughter joined the group for the song “Pixie Oaks,” for which she provided vocals. The little rock star easily commandeered the stage with sassy moves and joined her father for a heart-melting dance duet.
Screams of “Atta’ boy, Hutch” regularly rang out from someone behind me in the crowd when he essentially lit the drums on fire. Allen’s bass solos were met with enthusiasm that made my ears ring. I’m not entirely convinced that Gummerman is totally human. It does not seem possible to play the guitar like that without bursting into flames and glitter.
Changes within a band can be nerve-wracking. However, I was absolutely thrilled by how the group performed. I think it is important to remember that filling a role does not always mean trying to fill the shoes left in that place. Hutch does not play exactly like King. Allen does not play like Cardenas and Gummerman does not play like Hill. They play like Mutemath. A fan I chatted with in the crowd between acts put it very well.
“The music [may be] different, but the soul is the same,” he said. I could not have said it better myself. Just as the group’s musical style has evolved and changed with experimentation over the years, the experience of this live performance compared to the last show I saw was certainly different. Not lacking in any way, simply different.
MACG Senior Editor Cy White had the opportunity to see Mutemath perform at Austin City Limits and was kind enough to share her own experience with me.
What made you decide to see Mutemath?
I was going to the Austin City Limits, and because of your article about them I was intrigued. When their name showed up on the roster for the first day, I knew I just had to check them out.
What stood out to you about the music/performance?
Their music is … powerful. Paul’s voice is unreal! I’m not quite sure what I was expecting when I stood there in the audience, but it surely wasn’t that magnificent instrument. The way he puts every ounce of who he is into the performance …. He leaves his soul on the stage, everything on the stage. There was a moment when he did a handstand on his keyboard, and I was just …! Then he crowd-surfed on a mattress, and I actually was under him before he made his way back to the stage. He’s just a magical performer, and the band has so much passion, so much soul. It was really one of those performances that stays with you.
Can you see yourself attending another Mutemath concert?
If I have the opportunity to, I will absolutely see another Mutemath performance. Their stage presence is undeniable, and their music just reaches into you and forces you to be in touch with emotions you probably didn’t even know you had.
Do you think you will continue listening to Mutemath?
There’s no question I’ll continue listening to Mutemath. The only other thing I can add is that I’m so angry with myself for never having heard of them before your article. I can’t believe this magical band has gone unnoticed on my radar, but I’ll surely never forget their performance ACL, and will most definitely do my damnedest to ensure I listen to more of their music.
Such an incredible first-time experience speaks volumes of the passion driving Mutemath. There is nothing careless about their music and performances. Each note is intentional, regardless of how chaotic it may seem. In my opinion, part of their genius lay in the joy of nonconformity. Meany does not apologize for the nature of the lyrics, some of which, though interpretations will always vary, are undeniably of a spiritual nature. As Cy indicated, the music takes you on an emotional roller coaster. Some enjoy it, some do not and some are simply along for the ride. It goes beyond keyboard handstands, crowd surfing and the brief thrill of clasping sweaty hands with a musician while being tossed in the crowd. At one point during the Tulsa show, the group performed part of “Stall Out.” The song always elicited an emotional response from me, but I was surprised to find myself getting choked up in a crowd full of people. The words hit home like I was hearing them for the first time.
Such songs are a gift. They stick with us, with our feelings, in a way that is wholly unique and makes us want to share with others. Mutemath is a very giving group.
People change, and so do our opinions of them. Their actions challenge us and, in the case of groups and musicians, that challenge may be a bit too much to swallow. A day may come when I find myself unable to tune into Mutemath’s frequency, but I sincerely hope that never happens. There is just no way to fit everything I have to say in one article. Like so many countless fans, I feel privileged to have had the chance to grow and change over the years along with Mutemath, and I hope that this step in a new direction will be the first of many.
“We are still far from over.” – Stall Out (Mutemath, 2006)
Be sure to check out the latest from Mutemath, Romes and Colony House. Interested in hearing more about Darren King’s departure? I strongly suggest this insightful interview. Want to share your own thoughts on “Play Dead” or this article? Like, comment or tweet!