“Where's all the huge ’dozers?” asked Mrs. Mule soon after we’d gotten our bearings inside The Venue on this balmy Monday night. She was right—by the standards of most metal crowds, our fellow concert-goers were clean cut and slight of build (and not a little farty, unfortunately). None of this surprised me, seeing as we were attending the progressive metal bill of the summer. During Cynic's set, Paul Masvidal himself called it a geekfest. That made it official. The audience eyed fretboards as carefully as the musicians did; too amazed to mosh, I imagine.
I’ve wanted to see New York’s Dysrhythmia for ages, and they made it worth the wait. They rocked with full force, raging through their sadistically complex material. I don’t know how music like this gets made—how do you get these riffs across to someone else, how do you arrive at these song structures? The band obviously have a superb working chemistry. Their personalities and approaches mesh well in performance. Colin Marston reminds me of Voivod’s Blacky, whipping around his half-head of long hair and sawing away at his bass. Drummer Jeff Eber grits his teeth with the concentration it takes to make it through the set. Kevin Hufnagel stays relatively relaxed, save the occasional deep headbang, directing all his energy into his hands. Despite carefully tuning up between every song, their set kept up the momentum, from the conventionally rocking “My Relationship” early in the set to the blacker, more dissonant recent material towards the end.
I missed Intronaut the last time they came through town, opening for Mastodon. The Californian four-piece have fashioned a progressive sludge sound that is more appealing to me in concept than execution. They’re killer musos, all right, and the band is tight, but the balance seems off. I’m always happy to hear bass featured so prominently, and the drummer was cracking me up with the most ridiculous fills—basically soloing through the entire set. I didn't hear them meshing well as a rhythm section, though. With the bass taking the lead, I wanted to hear the guitars rise to the challenge and add distinctive voices of their own, but they stuck to their own corner. I could see and hear the complexity of what they were doing; I just didn’t feel it. Sometimes everyone did lock in, and the band sounded rich and deep. Groove was in their grasp. Too bad it happened only occasionally.
Last time I saw Cynic in Vancouver they were opening for Meshuggah (no shortage of ’dozers at that show) and then I saw them last autumn headlining Noctis III in Calgary. Both shows were in support of Traced in Air and were quite similar as a result. The Calgary show was naturally an expanded version of the Vancouver gig. This tour had the Decibel-sponsored angle, where they would play the dB Hall of Fame album Focus in its entirety. The first half of the set did indeed comprise “Veil of Maya” straight through to “How Could I”, with no announcements or fanfare, just some trippy lighting and projection effects as the band did their thing. The crowd knew what to expect and cheered on numbers like “Veil of Maya” (in which the vocal mix suffered from early-set teething problems), the mind-bending “Uroboric Forms,” and personal favourite “Textures”—which always struck me as their most King Crimson-ish song, an influence that Masvidal attests to in the actual Decibel Hall of Fame piece. The second half of the set was much more eclectic, devoted to Traced in Air and a couple sundry items. “Integral Birth” was performed twice, first by Paul Masvidal solo as a beautiful acoustic number, then in a full electric version to end the concert. The space between was filled in by Traced in Air numbers like “Evolutionary Sleeper” and “Adam’s Murmur” as well as new track “Wheels Within Wheels” and a number from their post-Focus Portal demo. Cynic performed everything with impeccable style and delicacy, which might not be what you want from a good metal show, but on the occasion of this geekfest, they were the perfect headliners.