As the lights dimmed on a sold-out crowd, packed to the rafters for Mutemath’s virgin performance to not only Melbourne, but Australia; necks craned between the shoulder-to-shoulder masses to get a peep of the band emerging on stage.
Instead, they marched in from the back corner of the venue, where The Cairos had just finished their rocking support slot, under a parade of fairy lights and clattering percussion.
A special entrance that signposted the magic to come.
Once on-stage, the newly-bearded drummer Darren King performed his ritual of taping his monitors to his head, making him look like a boxer before a match; or in Mutemath’s case, a title fight considering the blistering endurance of their live show.
Later frontman Paul Meany declares “we’ve got a lot of songs to play,” and he’s not kidding, in what turns out to be a 26-strong setlist that went for nearly two hours without a break.
Displaying both a vibrant musicality and passionate delivery, the New Orleans group wasted no time launching into the same brilliant trifecta that opens their latest record, Odd Soul. Namely, wowing the awed crowd with the title track, the relentless groove of ‘Prytania’ and ‘Blood Pressure.’ It went a long way to loosening up the crowd with an extended coda of rhythmic hammering that first demonstrated the sheer knuckle-white tightness of the quartet.
So watertight is their synergy that it makes their daring leaps of style and mood look easy, or more philosophically, an audience trusts a band who trusts each other. Allowing Mutemath to hop from searing prog-lite rockers (‘Plan B’) to slow, moody numbers (‘Lost Year’) and even some experimental moments, particularly on the reggae-inflected ‘Peculiar People’.
Though always an able keys player and soul-tinged singer, Meany has now evolved into quite the showman. Between-song he charms with affable banter, while during ‘Spotlight’ he leads the audience through some I sing/you sing theatrics which, by the end, have the crowd eating out of the palm of his hand.
Though Meany admits “it’s becoming a cliché” they dedicate ‘Sun Ray’ to the recently deceased Adam ‘MCA’ Yauch. Not more than a beautiful two minute mood piece on record, live, ‘Sun Ray’ – like most compositions tonight – is stretched into a meatily satisfying display of technical chops and irresistible groove.
‘Equals,’ another highlight, finds the frontman wading out to the sound desk, where he sings emphatically over the electronically flourished ballad as confetti is blown out around him.
Though he is the audience’s conduit, it is the rhythm section of King and Roy Mitchell-Cárdenas that steal the show. That’s not to take away from Meany or guitarist Todd Gummerman’s deft contributions, but there’s no doubting the rhythmic heart that beats ferociously at the centre of Mutemath. King’s beats snake along in the background when required, but he’s an absolute monster on the skins when he wants to be. Meanwhile, Mitchell-Cárdenas’ basslines look spidery, but sound buttery-smooth; or as it demands it, punch with a satisfying pop and crunch.
As they careen through their set, you catch snatches of their influences. Are they a psychedelic funk band playing loose blues? A jazz-rock outfit with more groove than grit? It’s hard to tell, and it matters little.
The middle of their set sees them steering towards their older material, and by association some of their Coldplay-baiting ballads like ‘Control’ or the lingering influence of The Police on fan-favourite ‘Chaos.’
Their strongest material however, is easily the genre-defying alchemy they’ve achieved with Odd Soul, or what Meany described in a recent interview as “just acing what we do live.” Songs with frameworks that are compact enough to digest, yet possess a flexible structure that exercise their improvisational skills.
‘Cavalries’’ lurches around sharp rhythmic corners, while ‘One More’ and ‘Quarantine’ see them pulling out every trick they’ve got. Seconds later and King is dismantling his kit, piece by piece, to redistribute it to the front row for a brief but incendiary solo, then reconvening the band around his fragmented drums for a full percussive meltdown.
Their encore includes a reading of Alicia Keys’ ‘Falling’ as a psychelicious blues standard, followed by the sprawling instrumental opus of ‘Reset.’ The resulting answer to ‘what If Sigur Rós were a funk troupe with a penchant for glitchtronica?’
As they depart the stage in a sweaty heap, Mutemath have earned the adoration and respect of all present, but also the title: ‘must-see live act’.
- Al Newstead