This past Saturday, August 27th, The Sonic Unrest tour featuring Periphery, Sikth, Chon, and Toothgrinder stopped through Pittsburgh, and I was fortunate enough to be able attend. The show was located at the Mr. Smalls Theatre, one of our finest former churches turned concert venue, and almost filled the place to capacity. I know what you’re thinking, “but Zach, the last time you saw Periphery you had such a terrible experience. Why would you put yourself through that again?” Well, I suppose that you might actually have to read on to find out. After all, this could easily contend for being the best prog-metal tour in the U.S. this year.
Arriving at the venue just after Toothgrinder took the stage was not my best idea. Many times, during the first opener, the crowd is just starting to trickle in, but that was not the case here at all. There is no “skipping the opener” when Toothgrinder is that opener it seems. I did not get this memo, because apparently I am the last one to be invited to the onslaught that they put on anytime they take the stage. Without even a moment to gain my bearings on what was going on around me, I was immediately assaulted by the absolute in-your-face brutality and energy that is Toothgrinder live in action. What at first sounded like chaos, quickly took the form of something more groovy, heavy, and technical as I found myself settling in by the sound booth.
While they didn’t exactly win me over into fandom, it would be difficult to downplay the caliber of musicians that were on stage. If this was going to be what set the stage rest of the night, then it was going to be a good show.
Having missed them the last two times that they came through Pittsburgh, Chon was my primary motivation to come out for this tour (that and the fact that my buddy had an extra ticket). They were the least heavy band on the tour, and following up Toothgrinder with Chon (or preceding Chon with Toothgrinder) was certainly going to throw off the casual listener who wasn’t familiar with both of them. I was genuinely curious to see how the band was going to hold up compared to what was they had surrounding them on the bill, and they did not disappoint.
Once they took the stage, it became blatantly apparent that they were perfect for this tour. Well, maybe not once they took the stage. Before they started their set they did their own sound, making sure their their levels were perfect before ever starting. This was commendable, not only because it shows the care they put into making their show sound perfect, but because they got it perfect right from the start. Watching them was akin to seeing Animals as Leaders, in regards to the fact that while they are not very showy performers, the level of technical musicianship throughout the entire band is astonishing. Their performance was the most clear sounding out of all the bands on the tour, with every note distinct and every note right on-point.
Before one song, their guitarist commanded that we mosh to their next one, saying that it would be awesome and even encouraging us to go crazy during the “weird soft parts.” It was most politely way that I have ever head someone say, and I’m paraphrasing here, “get in the f*ckin’ pit.” He asked nicely for a mosh pit, so we were happy to oblige. It’s pretty hard to ignore that sort of kindly request.
They were also a bit heavier than expected, which might make sense considering who they were touring with. The crowd loved them, I loved them, and hopefully they’re be headlining their owns tours soon enough.
Considering their obscurity here in the States, and the fact that this is their very first U.S. tour, I actually had no idea what to expect from these guys. I was told to imagine them as being the bridge between Meshuggah and Periphery in terms of the djent style of prog-metal progressed, which was evident as soon as they jumped into “Philistine Philosophies.” While the rest of the crowd went insane, I simply tried to take it all in, not knowing when I might get the opportunity see these guys perform again. As it would turn out, they might be returning in the near future, and when asked about it the crowd gave them a grim and frostbitten welcome to return.
The band continued the trend of ridiculous technicality, but gravitated more towards the Toothgrinder level of aggression, as opposed to Chon. Almost as if to give the band a moment to stop and collect themselves from what they were just a part of on stage, vocalist Mikee Goodman broke into the spoken word piece ‘When Will the Forest Speak…?’ from of their first full length album. It was an interesting but entertaining way to break up a show, and there were people all around me who seemed to know every word and be reciting them along. They were an interesting band to see, and it was a good introduction to them, to say the least. Just like Chon, it will be good to see what they can do with a headlining spot next time.
“What’s up, Pittsburgh? Let’s have some fun. D*cks out for Harambe.” – Spencer Sotelo
Yes, I went to see Periphery again, even after last time. They had become my biggest let down from a live band. For a group to be so talented and meticulous about their sound, I expected more from them. Maybe my expectations were too high and they deserved the benefit of the doubt, because bad shows do happen. Maybe, just maybe, they might have been worth giving another shot in a live environment. With that in mind, I’m actually very happy that I did, because that was hands down the best performance that I have seem them give. Knowing that I really wanted to make sure I experienced this properly, I had situated myself directly behind the sound booth, right between their sound and light production crew. However, somebody on their crew must have read my review (look at me being all famous [sarcasm, within sarcasm]) and fixed some things, and by “fix some things,” I mean that every complaint that I had was improved upon. Consider me impressed.
It didn’t take long into their set to know that we were in for one hell of a show. They took the stage and began to hype up the audience, but before they jumped into ‘Scarlet,’ vocalist Spencer Sotelo addressed the crowd with a shout-out to the majestic fallen ape, taken from us too early, Harambe. Yes, the above quote is real, and it’s how they started the show.
Apart from being technically excellent, the band brings such a fun energy to their live show. With the little things like Spencer’s allusions to internet memes and using the Rick & Morty quote “Get Schwifty” to transition into a song’s breakdown, they bring a silly, lightheartedness to a very heavy style of music. One moment that had me cracking up was right before the encore. Rather than going off stage, drummer Matt Halpern stayed behind, giving the universal sign for “cheer louder and we’ll come back out to rock your faces some more,” and actually began drumming to the ‘One More Song’ chant. He would change rhythms to see how the crowd would react, and for three or four transitions we managed to keep up with it, but Matt is far too good a drummer for any of us to stick with it long.
There were no sound issues this time around, everything was well balanced,from the drums to the vocals, and the three guitars, all of which spent some time in the rhythm or lead roles. Their light problems are also no longer. This was one of my biggest complaints, and I was certainly apprehensive about this part of the show. The towers of strobes have been shrunken down to two smaller ones, one on each edge of the stage, with usage being very tasteful. They played “Scarlet,” my favorite of their songs, that they did not play on the Juggernaut tour or when they opened for In Flames. They even had their lights exclusively as yellow and red for the song, a nice hat tip to the interstellar space battle between the superior hot dog condiment Ketchup versus the obviously inferior, and infinitely more disgusting nemesis Mustard, that took place in their music video for it. Just watch the video, I’m not even going to try and cohesively explain that one.
It was a great show overall, and I would even go as far to say that it was one of the best prog-metal shows that I have been to lately, but it’s time to address the elephant in the room. Well, it may be better to say the elephant that wasn’t in the room, or rather the bassist that wasn’t in the room. Unfortunately, and I didn’t discover this until after arriving at the show, Periphery’s bassist Nolley was not on tour with the band due to other obligations. You know, life getting in the way of fun type stuff. So while his presence was dearly missed, it’s not like it’s the first time getting rid of the bassist improved a band’s performance. I’ll see myself out now.