REVIEW: MUTEMATH’s “Play Dead” Live Brings New Life to The Van Buren 10-10-17

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PHOENIX – Tuesday, October 10th, was yet another perfect early-fall evening in downtown Phoenix. MUTEMATH, during the latter half of their US “Play Dead Live” Tour, graced The Van Buren with their ethereal presence. Joined by the relatively new band ROMES and Tennessee indie rock band Colony House. Together, they filled The Van Buren with an interesting mix of different styles of music, approaches to live performance, and interaction with fans.

ROMES

ROMES was first up; these young musicians came to Phoenix all the way from Toronto, Ontario and Wicklow, Ireland — all four met while attending school over the pond. This was their first time in Phoenix, and their enthusiasm and excitement to be at The Van Buren was palpable. The lead singer, Jacob Alexander, even sported a Phoenix Suns t-shirt to show his love for the city.

The members of ROMES had a few lights, including a lit-up sign of the band’s name, behind them on stage, but they relied mostly on their stage presence and energy to entertain the crowd. Their music was an interesting mix of styles, and they identify as indie, alternative, soul-pop or alternative pop. Their single, “Believe,” is a great introduction to their unique style. While they may be relatively new to the music scene, they have just released their self-titled debut album on October 6th.

The handsome and talented @romes hanging out with us at @thevanburenphx for their first visit to Phoenix

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Jacob Alexander, Nicolas Amadeus, James Tebbitt, and Andrew Keyes provided fantastic stage presence, energy, instrumentals, and vocals to the crowd. Their performance was a great warm-up for the incredible MUTEMATH show to come later, but ROMES certainly could hold their own. It was clear these guys are quite close, and you could feel the camaraderie on stage as they played their favorite songs. Their smiles were infectious, and their positive, friendly, welcoming aura certainly set the mood for the rest of the evening.

@romes rocked the stage at @thevanburenphx as the first opening band this evening

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Colony House

After a short break, Colony House’s time had come. Their set-up was a bit irregular, with the drummer on stage right and close to the audience. This provided everyone with a clear view of each band member’s performance, which was a nice addition. They certainly made excellent use of the entire stage. They also displayed a huge sign with their band name and logo behind them, which many in the audience thought looked a bit like a nice coffee shop or brand’s logo. They also provided a moderate amount of stage lighting, including what appeared to be four lighthouse beacons. At the very least, the audience could rest assured that no boats would be approaching too closely during the show.

@colonyhouse was the second opening band this evening at @thevanburenphx — eagerly awaiting @mutemath now!

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Colony House is from Franklin, Tennessee, which is also home to MUTEMATH lead singer Paul Meany’s record label, Teleprompt Records. While Colony House is not a part of this record label, it is clear they are quite close with MUTEMATH. They performed admirably, further lighting the fire under the crowd and increasing the energy. The highlight of their show was their hit song, “Silhouettes,” and the crowd certainly sang along with them. Later on in the show, the lead singer Caleb Chapman told the crowd to sing along with another song; after all, “it sounds so much better with your voices in it.” This was a nice way to get the audience involved.

@colonyhouse performimg their hit song “Silhouettes” at @thevanburenphx

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Colony House is considered indie rock, and they currently have two albums out. The most recent, Only The Lonely, was released in January of this year. Some of the singles off the new album are “You Know It,” “Lovely,” and “This Beautiful Life.” Chapman, his brother Will Chapman, and their friends Scott Mills and Parke Cottrell have been playing music together since high school, and once again, it was clear they are close with one another, just like ROMES. It is always wonderful to see a band composed of members who genuinely seem to love and respect one another.

Once Colony House was done playing, it was time for another break. This time, the break was a bit longer than last; MUTEMATH had a lot of equipment to set up. During this recess, the crowd continued to increase size as latecomers finally arrived to The Van Buren. Slowly but surely, people started packing in closer and closer to the stage, eager with anticipation. Meanwhile, The Van Buren was setting up for what was to be a truly impressive light show, projecting light towards the stage from the back of the house, illuminating the backdrop as well as the crowd.

MUTEMATH

After what seemed an eternity, New Orleans-based MUTEMATH finally arrived on stage. The crowd instantly went wild, and they were greeted by a band clad in purely white outfits. Aside from looking uniform in their comfortable outfits, their attire also served to complement the visuals being projected on to the stage and the massive silver backdrop. Their first song was “War,” joined by plenty of interesting visuals that either matched the song or captured the audience’s attention — soldiers, rising fists, a spiral galaxy, and various machines of war. Fans of the band who have seen the music video for this song may have recognized some of the imagery.

MUTEMATH continued the show with very different images across the board; each song brought something new, and just about every color of the rainbow was covered in the light show. In fact, this concert was less live music and more performance art. The band itself, primarily Meany, performed admirably. Their energy levels were truly unprecedented — perhaps even over 9000. They were all over the stage, dancing and playing all sorts of instruments, aside from the drummer. It was interesting to watch multi-instrumentalists performing a menagerie of fascinating instruments.

Meany’s featured instrument of choice seems to be the keytar, which he plays exceptionally well. Mixed with his bizarrely charming dance moves, unconventional voice, and the entrancing light show, the keytar is clearly the perfect weapon of choice for this artist. Later on, however, he also played his Rhodes keyboard, electric guitar, a bizarre stringed electronic instrument, and even the drums along with 2 other band members.

Meany did not just rely on his dancing and singing to entertain the crowd. He also resorted to surprise attacks in the way of headstands on top of his keyboard, the swinging of an LED light on a chord to mimic the display on the projector, getting up close and personal with the front row of fans, standing on top of his keyboard to absorb graphics being projected onto himself and the stage, and a few more surprises.

One of the most touching moments of the show was the shocking moment when Amelia Meany, Paul’s daughter, came out on stage. She had ear protection, for anyone who might worry about her little ears. She joined her dad in singing the song “Pixie Oaks,” containing these lyrics in its chorus:

My Amelia, my Amelia,
My Amelia, my Amelia,
She’s a killer, she’s a healer,
I believe her, my Amelia…

While the true meaning of the song is likely a personal thing, it is clear that his daughter has inspired much of his recent music and lyrics. She seems like an awesome kid, and her dance skills may one day rival her father’s.

In the middle of the show, MUTEMATH seemed to be finished. They had played for about an hour, after all, and vacated the stage. The crowd was not happy with this and continued to cheer for quite a few moments. After a short break of ambient background music and interesting graphics projected onto the screen, MUTEMATH came back on stage. What at first appeared to be an encore turned out to be an entire second act, so this must have been an intermission of sorts. Nobody in the audience was upset by the second hour of music, of course.

During the second half of the show, Meany, Todd Gummerman, Jonathan Allen, and their new drummer David Hutchinson somehow increased their energy levels and truly blew the crowd away. Their stage presence is nearly unparalleled, and for those up front, it was a fully immersive experience. Aside from Meany getting up close and personal with those close to the front at various points in the show, he also pulled out that interesting stringed electronic instrument and let a few people in the crowd play it with him. He passed it out to the crowd, let it float on the sea of hands for a while, and then quickly took it back.


The second most touching moment of the show came when Meany decided to jump down into the crowd while singing. When he wasn’t too focused on vocals, he began handing out high fives to those in the crowd. He proceeded down the center of the crowd, coming across a lucky individual whom he high fived and then proceeded to embrace him in what must have been one of the best hugs ever given. A few others in the crowd wanted in on this, so he gave out several more hugs before heading back to the stage. Those who received a hug seemed to be stunned in disbelief due to this intimate moment Meany shared with them.

While there were many incredible moments throughout the show, one thing is for certain — MUTEMATH rocked The Van Buren well into the night, providing an experience the crowd will not soon forget. They may have lost their beloved drummer, Darren King, and his iconic duct-taped headphones during live shows, but the new drummer did an admirable job. In fact, there was so much going on during the show that it was easy for people to forget about Darren King’s unfortunate departure from the band.

While the show blew everyone away, it was not without its faults. One attendee and long-time MUTEMATH fan, Jim S., mentioned a few concerns: “The live mix wasn’t great. The vocals were washed out. Might have to do with the mic technique.” Despite this minor concern, he was not at all let down. He proceeded to say, “The music complimented the stage presence. They have some really amazing songs and they sound good live, other than the mic mixing, but the stage presence really put the whole show over the top.” This was perfectly put, and a few others who attended the show agreed with Jim after discussing it once the show was over.

MUTEMATH is in a league of their own. They’ve gone through so many changes since 2002, and they have had some tough times, but fans old and new alike are so happy MUTEMATH is still making music and touring. In fact, people in Phoenix already seem to be prepared for their next stop — hopefully at The Van Buren again! Their new album, Play Dead, was just released last month and is a worthy successor to Vitals. Five albums and counting so far, and fans are certain to be eagerly awaiting new songs and albums in the future.

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Sean Tingle
Music Journalist at Burning Hot Events

English Instructor at ASU, & Humanities Instructor at EMCC. Taught in Japan for 1 year. World traveler. Dessert, tea, & coffee lover. Video game player & sci-fi/fantasy aficionado. Fan of all sorts of music. Rescue dog advocate.


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