December 2, 2015 TesseracT Enchant DNA Lounge San Francisco, CA 11-20-15 w/ Skyharbor, ERRA, & The Contortionist
In today’s Progressive Metal scene, English band TesseracT stands at the head with other greats like Animals as Leaders and Between the Buried and Me. One of the things that makes these bands unique is their tone. The tone that has inspired hundreds of bedroom musicians to pick up their guitars, dial in that sweet tight, hi-end distortion as well as the clear, ringing and spacious cleans. Now supporting their third studio album entitled Polaris, TesseracT return to North America with for a late Fall/early Winter tour. Peers of The Contortionist and inspirations to Skyharbor and ERRA., they bring the bunch along as special guests for a monstrous gathering of some of the greats in the scene today. Commencing on November 2nd with dates on the East Coast, they traveled to the Midwest and up to Canada before arriving at San Francisco’s ever-cozy DNA Lounge on Friday, November 20th. Selling out rather quickly with the buzz around all these bands as of late, their rabid fanbase was ready to be enthralled in a night of Progressive Metal bliss.
The house was filled to the brim in preparation for the band Skyharbor. Not only was the show sold out, but most of those ticket holders showed up relatively on time. Together with Keshav Dhar (guitars), Devesh Dayal (guitars), Krishna Jhaveri (bass), and Aditya Ashok (drums); band members hailing from all over the world, Eric Emery took the stage on his first tour with the band ever. Despite being so spread out when they first started, they got the attention of Basick Records, an up-and-coming label dedicated to finding unique bands and not spitting out the same thing over and over. Their second album in 2014, entitled Guiding Light, did extremely well, getting a considerable boost due to the name recognition that came with having Daniel Tompkins on vocals. Sustaining some changes since, Tompkins position has been filled by Eric Emery and Ashok recently became full-time drummer after the departure of Anup Sastry.
Wasting no time to get things going, Skyharbor opened their set with “Evolution,” one of the biggest singles of the 2014 Progressive Metal scene. It was most people’s first opportunity to hear Emery perform the song live after hearing him cover it on YouTube. After they eased the audience into the set with a sledgehammer, they dropped straight into two new tracks. The first one did not even have a name, but the second one is the only new material the band has put out all year, “Out of Time.” Of course Tompkins never sang this song, so to those who have had the new single on repeat, this was the only song in the set that sounded like originally recorded. “Patience” was the second song they played off of the album Guiding Light. It was clear that Emery’s singing style seems to be tailored to more slowly paced legato-orientated melodies and less to harsh attacking crescendos. The only song the band played off of 2012’s Blinding White Noise: Illusion was “Celestial.” It was a heavy way to end their set and it was clear that they were all into it. Dayal was so into it that his mouth was hanging open in a concentrated daze. When they left, it felt abrupt and the already packed house applauded them. One could feel the desire for an encore, though it was fated not to be. It was clear that Emery showed up and did a great job doing old and new songs alike.
The next band was ERRA Loudly and proudly hailing from Alabama, this four piece set consists of four guys with names related to money; Ian Eubanks (vocals), Jesse Cash (guitar/cleans), Sean Price (bass), and Alex Ballew (drums). So Ballew is not really money related, but it is awfully close to Baller. With Moments of Clarity, their latest EP, having come out around the same time as Skyharbor’s Guiding Light, ERRA had the freedom to really mix things up, touching on the EP once and their two full lengths a few more times.
The new EP was first and they opened with “Dreamcatcher.” A great way to cement themselves as they were probably the most Hardcore and least Progressive band of the bunch. The song has a dream-like quality to it and is the intro track to their latest work. The band has added a lot of great elements over the years and the mixture of screams and cleans really keeps things feeling fresh. The year before the EP, they put out a full-length called Augment, which is where the next track, “Pulse,” came from. This Metalcore band really hits the nail on the head when it comes to their looks too. The screamer and Lead Vocalist, Eubanks, is a tough-looking, strong-as-a-bull, bald, white guy with an intense stare that would make most people piss their pants in the right setting. On the other hand, the clean singing, Cash, is thin with long flowy emo hair and the juxtaposition is the nerd and the jock taken to the extreme. Just like that comparison, they use their differing talents and auras to make their live shows feel like they are in constant flux. Speaking of flux, not staying on one album for more than a song, they went further back in their discography to Impulse and the track was, “White Noise.”
Obligatory speech about how the band is from Alabama, how much they love San Diego and…wait. People turned to each other and began to snicker, “Did he just say San Diego?” Without missing a beat though, he glossed over it and announced the next song, “Heart,” also off of Impulse. Another set of two from the same album has “Alpha Seed,” arguably the best track off of Augment, following and had everyone in the crowd singing along. The melody is really well laid out in this song and that made it much easier for the audience to get into it. The final song in their set was “Hybrid Earth.” Eubanks got the crowd clapping and at one point there was even an actual mosh. One might have thought that a lack of mosh during ERRA would be a bad sign, but the charismatic Eubanks made it happen and the last song was the heaviest of the whole set, which helped a lot.
Keeping the energy flowing, next was The Contortionist. Coming off of what is arguably their best release and a strong contender for Album of the Year in 2014, The Contortionist has been in the game since 2007. With that in mind, The Progressive Metal band from Indiana would play almost strictly from that release, Language. This could have been partially due to the fact that singer, Michael Lessard, joined the band after the release of their second album, 2012’s Intrinsic.
Ready to go, he was joined by Guitarist Robby Baca, Drummer Joey Baca, Bassist Jordan Eberhardt, and Keyboardist Eric Guenther on stage. After taking a few moments to get in sync on the first song, the group opted to skip the actual intro track, which, while definitely mood-setting, could have been considered a waste of the limited time that they had on stage. They played “Language I: Intuition” and after that it was straight into “Language II: Conspire” which could hardly be considered a separate song anyways. During the first bridge, Baca did some improvisation and when the clean vocals came back in, the crowd was singing. They continued their straight play-through of Language with “Integration,” “Thrive,” and “Primordial Sound.” It was during this run that it became pretty obvious that the mix was off and the vocals were too low. Despite that, the crowd was still singing away to the memorable and interrelated lyrics. When “Flourish” came on, the delineation was clear and the trance broken. Taken from their previous release, Instrinsic, the song is more aggressively technical than most of the songs on Language. They wrapped up with the last song on Language, skipping “Arise” and “Ebb & Flow.” With this epic ending the vibe felt natural to those who have been listening to the album and thus The Contortionist did a wonderful job at creating a holistic atmosphere.
Last, but certainly the most anticipated, was TesseracT. From England, TesseracT recently signed to Kscope records and released the highly anticipated Polaris, which celebrates the return of Daniel Tompkins on vocals. On top of Tompkins, there is Alec Kahney (guitars), Jay Postones (drums), James Monteith (rhythm guitar), and Amos Williams (bass/backup vocals/growls). Coming onto the scene around the same time as The Contortionist, but from another direction, TesseracT quickly became a staple not just back home, but here in the US as well. Polaris came out earlier this year and as the namesake of the tour, they made sure to give it a lot of attention.
Of course, the set up time was excruciatingly long, but it would be for any fan anxiously awaiting to see the kings of prog. For the last minute or two before they came out, it would have made sense because nearly every track on the new album begins or ends with a similarly ambient noise, but the twenty minutes or so of aimless noise the audience had to endure before the set was too much. Roughly 20% of the excitement displayed when they actually came on was from a collective relief more so than actually seeing the band. All that aside, the crowd was enthusiastically heralding the return of Tompkins, who had just recently left the opening band, Skyharbor. They started with the opener to Polaris, “Dystopia.” The song has a slow intro and they used that time to hype the audience up. This track also has so many great “Tompkins Moments,” where one can tell that he wrote the part specifically for his voice. The second song of their set happened to be the first single off Polaris. Heavy, but with so much harmony, it was during the second round of the most intense part of the vocal harmony that Tompkins let it rip. In fact, it was so intense so that the whole crowd got riled up to the point where one crowd surfer lost his shoe. Tompkins anguished, guttural cries ripped through the venue in a primal, yet refined way. People that did not know the song, or just were not expecting it live, were literally taken aback.
After that exemplary display of showmanship, they jumped back in their discography to 2010’s Concealing Fate, which was also a part of 2011’s full-length debut, One. Tompkins was the lead singer on both of these, so it made sense to keep up his momentum. Picking the best tracks from the EP, things got a little heavier and head-banging ensued in earnest with “Deception,” which was part two of “Concealing Fate,” then rolled into the third part immediately after. “The Impossible” has a lot of overlapping vocal parts and Tompkins did his best to keep up and moved around in ways different than the album to make it fit for a live show.
Finally, after that, the audience had a chance to hear Tompkins’ renditions of songs from 2013’s Altered State. They started off with the “Of Matter Trilogy” consisting of, “Proxy, Retrospect and Resist.” Normally, where we would hear Ashe O’Hara’s butter smooth vocals we now have Tompkins’ slightly rougher timbre and more held back voice. It was extremely entertaining and interesting to watch him pick and choose which parts of a song he would really want to play up and which he would keep more subdued. They then skipped ahead to “Of Mind – Exile,” an extremely groovy track before moving back to their album One to play “April.” A slightly strange choice considering it was not a single or a particularly popular track, it was nonetheless well-received. For the OCD inclined, they finished up the “Of Mind Duo-logy” with “Nocturne.” This track was definitely a hit when this album came out and Tompkins did a fantastic job making it his own but still hitting the same strong beats that O’Hara did. The whole audience was screaming, “Wake me up!” then enthusiastically head-banged their way to the end of the riff. The last song off the new album was “Survival,” which was the latest single from the album as well. The opening lyrics were a tease to those wondering if it would be the last song, “Will I disappear?” They did not though. To many listener’s surprise, the final song was a classic from Concealing Fate, “Acceptance,” and with that, the lights were on and guitar picks and drumsticks were caught ending a very invigorating performance.
The night, as a whole, was a success and each band really showed up to give it their all. There was a lot of song covering, which must have been hard for the singers involved, but everyone brought their own unique sound to each song. Adding to the mood, DNA Lounge was packed from the get go and only got fuller as time went on. Each band had their band of fans and there was a lot of singing and love in the air. There is no question the Progressive Metal crowd is a unique one in the sense of the diversity that is represented at each show. The way all these things come together really made the night a special one for all those in attendance. Be sure to check out the tour as it circles back to the East Coast and concludes in New York City on December 7th.