Reviews > Shows
Mutemath at the Mews
Photo by Breanna Stegenga
The Vaudeville Mews
Des Moines, Iowa
Last November as Paul Meany, Darren King and Roy Mitchell-Cárdenas were developing material for Mutemath’s third studio album, one of them posted a photo on the band’s Myspace blog and Twitter profile. The subject line read, “I asked a fan for an inspirational thought for this new record.”
The shot focuses in on a keyboard topped with a lamp that looks like it has done time in somebody’s grandma’s basement. Five guitar headstocks are visible, leaned up against a wall in a row like an expectant audience. Taped to the wall, the fan’s advice is scrawled on sheets of 8½ x 11 paper:
I heard Mutemath in Des Moines’ Court Avenue entertainment district a few days before the October 4th release of Odd Souls, and the new music definitely didn’t suck. In fact, it rocked, jammed and got deliciously funky.
It’s easy to see why the fan’s advice would seem refreshingly funny to the members of Mutemath. They’ve been open about the enormous pressure, both internal and external, they endured as they toiled to make 2009’s Armistice live up to 2006 debut album Mutemath, whose kudos included a Grammy nomination for the “Typical” video. In fact, Meany and King have said that Armistice fallout is the reason guitarist Greg Hill left the band last year when talk of a third record got serious. It was then that the remaining three made the bold decision to lock out the world—their manager, the execs at record label Warner Bros. Records, and even their friends and families—so they could write the new record in Meany’s New Orleans home studio. They also avoided the mega-crowd scene in promoting this one, booking the Odd Souls Introduction Tour at many of the same small clubs they had played in their early days.
The payoff was clear in the new music, which layers blues, jazz, funk, soul and early rock over the already-eclectic mix that put this alternative rock band on the charts. The funked-up sound wasn’t the show’s only surprise. As fans waited for the band to take the stage at the front of the narrow Des Moines venue—some of us cursing ourselves for not having queued up earlier—the rat-a-tat of a snare rang out at the back of the room. Hoots and claps erupted as the crowd turned to see a small procession weaving, marching-band style, through the packed house, sporting drums and tambourines. Reaching his place onstage first, new guitarist Todd Gummerman laid down an evocative, ringing alt-blues riff you won’t hear as clearly on the album but can catch in fans’ YouTube posts from the tour.
Strobes and mist added a surreal dimension to glimpses of King strapping his headset in place with his signature roll of duct tape (he says it lets him move more and hear band sequences better). Taking his place at the drum set, he hammered out an aggressive beat punctuated with rapid-fire drumstick clicks as keyboardist and lead vocalist Meany stepped up to the mic and said simply, “We are Mutemath…we’re from New Orleans,” before erupting into his all-out, tonsil-baring vocals on the hyper new “Prytania.”
Smartphone cameras shot up like periscopes as the band transitioned into the ringing, rolling, rhythmic intro to “Blood Pressure,” which had gotten a lot of pre-release play on Alt Nation and will no doubt be one of the new album’s radio hits with its screaming guitar and heart-twisting lyrics, starting with, “Why can’t you be more like your older brother? Why can’t you do a little more for Jesus?”
The intense, otherworldly opener to “Spotlight”—featured on the 2008 Twilight soundtrack as well as 2009’s Armistice —dialed up the show’s pace even more, Meany snapping out the intro vocals before losing himself in the chorus’s aching screams. After a brief thanks and mention of the new album, it was on again, Meany drinking the mic to the super-funky, fuzzed out “Tell Your Heart Heads Up” from the new album. The piece underscores his versatility, its semi-spoken lyrics taking on an almost Jagger-esque “Miss You” feel.
Next up: “Allies,” another new tune—this one an electro-groove dance party deep in ‘70s-style undertones (complete with war-themed lyrics). The atmospheric “Reset,” from the Mutemath album, followed, taking us fast-forward into the band’s electro-rock dimension with its spaced-out blips hopping over a rich, pulsing, echoing keyboard and guitar backdrop.
True to its name, title track “Odd Soul” felt anything but mainstream with its attention-grabbing, stop-and-start beat and fuzzed out vocals. “Walking Paranoia,” a few numbers later, showed the band at its funky, funny best. The rolling, playful keyboard and guitar opener felt like an Earth, Wind & Fire number, creating a beautiful setup for the falsetto opening lines that transported us into the band’s early-teen psyches: “I am a nervous wreck; Jesus is coming back; Gonna catch me at the porno rack; I’m about to have a heart attack…”
Meany’s tenor was lovely on this one, dancing all over the place above the rapid-fire instrumentals. It’s just as beautiful on the album, but you haven’t truly experienced the song until you’ve seen him perform it, head tipped back, screaming his heart out at the keyboard.
The show included some of the moves that have made Mutemath’s live performances legendary, including Meany’s jump-kicks and handstands and King’s high-energy drumming from atop a floor tom. But for the most part, the mood felt more like an amped blues club, its deep-hued green and blue lights punctuating a heavy mist that gave the place a cool, boggy vibe.
The most elegant number of the night was the ballad In “No Time.” The last track on the new album, it starts simply, with vocals over keys, asking, “Where’s your heart gone? And where’s your soul? Where did all of your faith go? And where’s that old spark a failure stole? Well, I bet we find it in no time at all…”
Meany’s performance felt like an open vein. And while this song put words to vulnerability, it had been there all evening—in eye contact with the audience that seemed to feed Meany and King, in the shy smiles from bassist Mitchell-Cárdenas during his sweet “Chaos” solo, and in the love pouring from stage to balcony and back again between the band and Gummerman’s parents, who had driven in from Bloomington, Illinois, to hear them play.
Just don’t suck? Looks like that’s the right advice in this creative universe.
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