My daughter’s best friend got tickets to see The Fray for Christmas, so off we went last night-two teenage girls and two moms-on a three hour drive to see a band I had no interest in (The Fray) and one I’d never heard of (MuteMath). We had front row seats in the arena, which was relatively small, but comfortable and clean. The security staff were nice and parking wasn’t too big a hassle, and the parking lot attendants were very helpful in directing us to the handicapped spaces in the front. Access to the bathrooms was easy and the aisles were plenty wide enough to accommodate a walker or wheelchair.
Now on to the show…I was prepared to be bored, quite honestly. But from our seats I had a great view of MuteMath drummer Darren King’s drum kit, which was small and beat up, with actual chunks missing from the edges of the hi-hat cymbal. Things were looking a bit more promising; anyone with a trashed drum kit can’t be all bad. When the band came out I was blown away. King immediately jumped up on top off the bass drum and started trying to beat it to death. The other band members-Paul Meany on vocals and keys (including the keytar; how geeky-freaky-cool is that?), Greg Hill on guitar, and Roy Mitchell-Cardenas on bass-were all over the place, beating drums and playing frantically. And this band was tight. What could have been, with anyone else playing, a jumbled mix of notes and chords, somehow became a wide-open orchestra of chaotic melody. Meany’s vocals are clear and pure, his voice sometimes gravelly but never with any of the pretentious whininess you hear in so many bands today. The songs had a poetic quality, a syntax that came through even when the level of noise kept me from hearing exactly what the words were. The bass was hard and fast but never overbearing, and Mitchell-Cardenas played it with an intensity and focus that showed that he was doing exactly what he loved to do. Hill’s melodic guitar playing should put him near the top of any list of the greatest guitarists of the twenty-first century. The thing that impressed me the most, though, besides the way these four guys were so perfectly in sync musically, was the energy they put out. King looked like an Amish mental patient, in his plain outfit, suspenders, and taped-on headphones, pounding the drums in a blissful frenzy. His energy was almost scary at times, and it was a bit like peering in through the windows of his home as he rocked out, oblivious to the audience. Paul Meany was wild and frenetic, jumping onto amps and pianos, doing an awesome noodle-legged dance with his keytar, and performing assorted gymnastic feats. The huge grin he kept on his face nearly the entire time was proof that this guy loves what he does, and he does it well. I was disappointed when the band left the stage; I could have listened to and watched these guys all night.
The Fray was up next, and unfortunately, they didn’t come close to matching what MuteMath did. They did sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to a girl in the audience, and the lead singer left the stage to talk to her about halfway through the show. It was sweet, but like everything else in their show, seemed very staged, almost scripted, as if they were doing everything by rote. Musically they were adequate and played together well, and the drummer seemed to be enjoying himself, but the vocals were blurry and the band really seemed like they were just going through the motions. Their whole show reminded me of a high school prom band-a decent, mellow band, but nothing special. There were two exceptions: one was when the members of MuteMath came out and jammed with The Fray in a Nirvana-esque mosh; and the other was when dozens of bare light bulbs dropped from the ceiling during the last song. That was cool. I will say that my daughter’s friend is a big fan of The Fray, and she was hugely impressed with the show. In the words of fifteen-year-old Hayley, the show was ‘Omigod, so awesome, it was the best thing ever!’ and the rest of the audience seemed to agree. So for the most part, they put on a good show for the intended audience.
After the concert MuteMath were in the lobby taking pictures and signing autographs, and we had the privilege of meeting and talking with them for quite a while. Besides being an incredible rock band, these are without a doubt some of the nicest guys I’ve ever met. It’s rare to find a band with this much talent and genuine love of making music together, and they deserve all the success in the world.
Rock on, MuteMath.