All posts by Brandon Biallas

Writer, Audio Engineer, Web Designer, and Music Teacher. Plays guitar in The Banter and bass in Hostile Work Environment. Big fan of his 3 cats, Mexican food, and exploring the northern Arizona wilderness.

REVIEW: Minus The Bear, Tera Melos Give Tempe Fans A Lesson In Math Rock (12-7-18)

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Tempe, AZ —  At face value, thinking about a period of seventeen years does seem like a long stretch of time. Contrarily, Minus the Bear frontman, Jake Snider, has a different take on the idea because about halfway through the set on their farewell tour at the Marquee Theatre last night, Snider gave the audience some insight into their seventeen year-long career as a band, “Seventeen years feels like almost no time has passed. We appreciate all of you for being here. We’ve got the best fans of anyone.

Minus the Bear - Photo Credit: Mark Greenawalt
Jake Snider (Vocalist), Minus the Bear
Photography:
Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved

This served as a beautiful footnote at the end of the influential band’s creative streak consisting of 6 studio albums and 12 EPs, as well as countless national and international tours. They’ve been highly influential in the math rock genre and are largely considered pioneers of the style, their beginnings predating many noteworthy math rock bands like This Town Needs Guns and Chon.

They clearly expressed their gratitude to the audience, and the feeling was undeniably mutual as the sounds of cheering and clapping rarely died down over the course of the evening. Every crowd has its black sheep though, demonstrated towards the end of the show as one inebriated concert-goer threw a full can of beer at bassist Cory Murchy. To the relief of many, the band didn’t hold the rudeness of one person against the rest of the audience as Snider calmy chimed in over the mic “Please don’t throw your f*ucking beer can at us. Thanks, we love you guys.

Tera Melos

The unforgettable night began with an excellent introduction of the complex music to come thanks to the opening act, Tera Melos. The Sacramento, California-based band pummelled the audience with a frenetic 40 minute set that never once let up in energy.

Tera Melos - Photo Credit: Mark Greenawalt
Tera Melos
Photography:
Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved

It all began when Nick Reinhart, the guitarist/vocalist/keyboardist of the band, gave the other members a quick, nearly imperceptible glance, and then they were off with their first song, “Don’t Say I Know”. The band continued their set without uttering a word or letting out a breath between songs while only occasionally looking at each other for brief acknowledgement of what was coming next. This was astounding because of the technicality and otherworldly sounds emanating from Reinhart’s guitar; it takes incredible musicianship to even follow what’s going on as a listener, let alone a Tera Melos band member.

Tera Melos - Photo Credit: Mark Greenawalt
Nick Reinhart (Vocalist, Guitarist, Keyboardist), Tera Melos
Photography:
Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved

Interspersed between songs were spastic, electronic guitar lines that could often be described as computer beeping in 5/4 time. Some of these sounded reminiscent of dubstep while others bordered more along EDM territory. It was surprising to many fans in attendance that it was coming from a guitar, as well as those more familiar with the band as you’d frequently hear someone new shouting “What?!” or “How?!” from around the room as Reinhart stomped on a new combination of guitar FX pedals.

Tera Melos - Photo Credit: Mark Greenawalt
Tera Melos’ FX pedals
Photography:
Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved

Another highlight of their incredible set was “Slimed”, with Reinhart screaming “Something about my face, always makes me sick!” as the band followed along perfectly without missing a note. On these merits alone, Tera Melos is not, nor will they ever be, a band to be missed.

Minus the Bear

After fans had about 20 minutes to recover between sets from the mind blowing experience of Tera Melos, Minus the Bear picked up right where the opening act left off.

Minus the Bear - Photo Credit: Mark Greenawalt
Minus the Bear
Photography:
Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved

The band’s embrace of classics like “Pachuca Sunrise”, “The Fix”, and “The Game Needed Me” from their second album Menos Del Oso scattered throughout the set among more recent favorites, such as “Last Kiss” from their final 2017 release, VOIDS served as an anachronistic tribute to their incredible evolution as a band over time. It was a nice touch and always kept you guessing as what was to come next. The band’s sound was also finely tuned to the venue’s sound system, a huge relief considering anything less would have proven unacceptable for a band so musically polished themselves.

Minus the Bear - Photo Credit: Mark Greenawalt
Dave Knudson (Guitarist), Minus the Bear
Photography:
Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved

Guitarist Dave Knudson was a finger-tapping machine, only taking both his hands off the guitar neck to kneel down and adjust knobs on his plethora of FX pedals. If Knudson and Reinhart were to face off in a gladiator-esque guitar FX duel, it would be impossible to tell who would come out on top. Knudson and keyboardist Alex Rose were the icing on the cake of the intricately layered music, as bassist Murchy and touring drummer Joshua Sparks provided a solid backbone for the songs to breathe new life into the hearts of many listeners.

Minus the Bear - Photo Credit: Mark Greenawalt
Alex Rose (Keyboardist), Minus the Bear
Photography:
Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved

While farewell tours will always carry bittersweet connotations, this inspiring show served as a proper send-off for some of math rock’s founding fathers with the grateful support of an up-and-coming math rock band. It’s hard to picture it going any better than it did, and many fans stayed until the very end of the show, absorbing every beautiful moment. The legacy of Minus the Bear will live on through not only their own music, but in the hearts and minds of fans worldwide and other math rock bands reinventing the sound that was so new only seventeen short years ago.

Photo Gallery

Photographer: Mark Greenawalt

Minus The Bear & Tera Melos – Marquee Theatre 12-7-18

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Photography © Mark Greenawalt. All Rights Reserved

Review: Underoath Warms Up “Erase Me Tour” at Marquee Theatre, Captivates Crowd (11-09-18)

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Underoath - Erase Me album artwork

Tempe, AZ — Underoath, touring in support of their latest release Erase Mebrought remarkable energy to Marquee Theatre.  When asked about one of the opening bands, The Plot in You, local fan and concertgoer, Curtis said, “I’ve never seen a band play so hard,” which is an apt description for every band that took the stage on this night. In addition to The Plot in You, Underoath’s supporting acts on the “Erase Me Tour” include Dance Gavin Dance and Crown the Empire.

 

Dance Gavin Dance stunned the audience with one of the most polished, musically proficient, and engaging sets of the night. It wouldn’t be a stretch of the imagination to say that they stole the show with their absolutely commanding presence on the Marquee stage. Lead clean-vocalist Tilian Pearson and unclean vocalist John Mess made an excellent team, trading off between Pearson’s angelic high notes and Mess’ primal, guttural screams. Their body language couldn’t be more different and yet it’s so complimentary to the other performer that it comes off as a natural contrast. Pearson dances across the stage with a snake-like charm, moving his body in fluid motions reminiscent of Michael Jackson while Mess stands firm like a monument, tightly focused on the crowd and his microphone and he delivers his powerful vocals.

Dance Gavin Dance - Photo Credit: Rodrigo Izquierdo
Dance Gavin Dance
| Photography:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

Guitarist Will Swan was an indisputable highlight in a band full of unrelentingly talented musicians. His hands move so fast as to seemingly blur at times and aside from throwing his head back and forth in bobble-head like fashion to the music, he stands completely still. For a performer to remain almost entirely stationary while still bringing so much energy to the band’s sound is truly an incredible feat. His effortless transitions between finger tapping on “Chucky Vs. The Giant Tortoise” to speedy flurries of dissonant power-chords hint at a subtle mastery of his instrument.

Dance Gavin Dance - Photo Credit: Rodrigo Izquierdo
Dance Gavin Dance | Photography: Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

Before leaving the stage, Pearson thanked the crowd for being so welcoming and quickly added “you guys are f*cking crazy!”. This was apparent being in the crowd and witnessing what some concert-goers were capable of without getting thrown out of the show, although this was nothing compared to what came next.

As stagehands went to work striking the other band’s props and equipment, people marveled at the visual spectacle coming to life before their eyes. The drums and keyboards sat atop a giant riser on stage-right and left respectively, which was illuminated by ubiquitous screens that covered most of the stage. Dozens of rotating lights mounted on stage trusses strongly indicated that the audience was about to witness epileptic-rainbows of flashing color fill the room.

Underoath | Photography: Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

As Underoath’s set begin, the lights went dark and shortly thereafter, the screens and lights came to life. The screens cast blindingly-delightful floods of color into the retina of adoring fans who screamed their hearts out. The electronic hum of Christopher Dudley’s keyboards set the foreboding tone of the hour as drummer and vocalist, Aaron Gillespie began the intro to “On My Teeth” at machine-gun speeds. The energy was increasingly palpable as lead vocalist, Spencer Chamberlain ran on stage so fast as to almost fly into the crowd upon entering.

The night continued with this level of energy until it suddenly increased at an unstoppable pace when the band broke into an old favorite, “In Regards To Myself”. People lost their minds and formed mosh pits that felt tumultuous yet far friendlier and safer than most. Eventually following this were other notable song highlights in “Desperate Times, Desperate Measures”, “Reinventing your Exit”, “Rapture”, and “It Has To Start Somewhere”.

Underoath - Photo Credit: Rodrigo Izquierdo
Spencer Chamberlain (Vocalist), Underoath
Photography:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

Chamberlain commanded the crowd with the ease of a sorcerer manipulating matter as he moved his hands in a circle and instructed them to mosh. He also had an admirable way of engaging the audience on deeply, personal levels when he went into a beautiful speech about his own experiences with drug addiction and how he used music as one form of therapy and a creative outlet for his emotions. He credited Gillespie as the one he called first when he was at his lowest point in life and realized he needed to get help. After that he implored the audience to applaud as he expressed his heartfelt gratitude to his bandmate and close friend. It all felt really genuine and inspiring as he concluded his speech with “You’re not weak for seeking out help when you need it.”

Underoath - Photo Credit: Rodrigo Izquierdo
Underoath | Photography: Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

Overall, Underoath and Dance Gavin Dance both proved beyond a shadow of doubt that they are musical forces to be reckoned with and can still draw enthusiasm from crowds after 10+ year careers doing what they obviously love to do. It will surely be exciting to see what the future holds and what comes next from each of these talented bands.

Photo Album

Photographer: Rodrigo Izquierdo

Underoath & Dance Gavin Dance – Marquee Theatre 11-8-18

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Photography © Reagle Photography
All Rights Reserved

REVIEW: System of a Down Mezmerize Phoenix Fans (10-16-18)

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PHOENIXFor a band as dynamic as System of a Down, one would expect their live performances to be equally, if not more engaging, than their studio releases. Gaining popularity from classic songs like Chop Suey for example, which features a quickly strummed acoustic guitar intro leading directly into a frenetic musical meltdown. This is arguably one of the defining attributes of the band and last night’s show at Talking Stick Resort Arena in downtown Phoenix was certainly no exception.

El Paso rock band, At The Drive In, set the tone of the night with energetic grooves and polished musicianship; a nice preview of what was to come later on. Their set wasn’t without its technical hiccups however, as lead vocalist Cedric Bixler-Zavala wildly gyrated his arms in an upward motion towards stage left during the first song. This was a clear indication that his vocals weren’t loud enough in the mix and he most likely couldn’t hear himself. The band didn’t miss a beat and continued on into the next few songs, but not without Bixler-Zavala interrupting himself mid-lyric to say “turn up the vocals!” He was obviously frustrated with the technical side of things, but this didn’t take away from their overall performance. With Bixler-Zavala and the rest of the band continuously powered through and made sure the people got what they came to see. Roaring reception from the crowd and an ever turbulent ocean of bodies in the open floor area indicated they were delivering on that promise for many fans.

Following Cedric’s politically charged closing announcement after the final song, that the band was “going backstage to hang out. Don’t call ICE on us,” there was a quick tear-down period as various stage hands took their gear away and made room for the main attraction. Soon after, the lights darkened and System of a Down broke into “Innervision”, a song I didn’t expect as an opening number but a great decision nonetheless. This song has a slow-burning intensity that served as an excellent preamble for what was about to hit the audience next.

Immediately after “Innervision”, lead guitarist, Daron Malakian hit the immensely-heavy opening power chord to “Prison Song”. As if this song alone wasn’t enough of a reason to get the crowd filled with excitement, the band faked everyone out by hitting the opening chord a few more times than expected which stirred up the suspense and generated added fervor.

It’s worth noting that by the time System of a Down took the stage, the sound was immediately dialed in and they sounded absolutely perfect. Every single instrument was balanced well with one another, and both Serj Tankian and Malakian’s vocals had achieved just the right volume levels to allow their harmonious vocals to soar and blend in beautiful ways.

From this point on, each song flowed smoothly into the next with virtually no time in between, allowing them to pack as many songs into the night as possible. The third song played was “I-E-A-I-A-I-O”, which was followed by yet another acronymic song “B.Y.O.B.” Behind the band was a giant jumbotron displaying many visually arresting images including bombs exploding, girls dancing in chorus lines, and inflamed cars driving down the highway at light speeds.

Bassist Shavo Odadjian and drummer John Dolmayan held down the rhythm section with machine-like musical precision while still remaining animated on stage and engaging with the crowd when necessary. Odadjian particularly stole the show at many points during the set with his excellent bass tone cutting through the mix and his charismatic dance moves.

Odadjian was not the only one who visibly enjoyed himself on stage either. Both Tankian and Malakian employed their own dance routines of hopping around on one foot and spinning around in circles. This struck me as particularly impressive when you consider how fast and technical each of their roles in most of the songs are. Malakian also had me laughing at multiple points during the show when he chose to introduce the song “Psycho #13” by singing his own rendition of “Physical” by Olivia Newton-John. He had a lot of excellent banter with the audience during other songs too, like chanting the words “everybody spin around” to the tune of the outro guitar riff in “Toxicity”. This gave way to a maelstrom of people swirling around in one of the biggest mosh pits I’ve ever witnessed. The power that the band and their songs have over their fans is undeniable and an incredible thing to witness in person.

Other notable highlights of the night were “Aerials”, “Question!”, “Deer Dance”, and especially the closing song “Sugar”; an excellent choice to cap off the night and a highly memorable setlist. System of a Down have proved once again that despite a 24-year music career, their enthusiasm has yet to wane. Over 10 years after the band’s last double album release Mezmerize/Hypnotize, they have teased new music with various contradictory information coming from different band members over time. However, one thing I certainly take comfort in is that regardless of whether or not we ever get to experience new music from the band, they’ve left a lasting musical legacy that has left an indelible impression on me, as well as many other fans from around the world.