Show Review: Cynic with Lesser Key and We Are the City, El Rey Theater, Los Angeles, California 7/12/2014
Greetings fellow toilet dwellers. Some of you might know me as ChuggaChuggaDeedleyDoo, frequent lurker, and intermittent commenter on various Disquis-enabled metal sites. I’m excited about our efforts to build a metal community hub where the peoples can actually contribute, so I figured I’d do a review of the Los Angeles Cynic show to help get things started. Apologies in advance for the low quality photographic evidence—my iPhone photography skills leave a bit to be desired.
Die hard Cynic fans are going to hate me for this, but I was a late bloomer to Cynic. It’s not that I wasn’t instantly sold after my first listen, it was just that their now legendary 1993 debut album Focus somehow wasn’t even on my radar until the band reunited for 2008’s Traced in Air and the collective metal community lost their minds like an old friend presumed long dead had suddenly shown up at the front door.
Truth be told, I was actually a little disappointed that Cynic wasn’t part of my regular music diet during my formative years. Could my guitar playing today be more interesting had I learned Paul Masvidal riffs and solos as a teenager instead of pouring over Kirk Hammett’s entire life’s work? Woulda, coulda, shoulda.
In any event, I had never seen Cynic live before last Saturday, so the chance to see them play at a venue in their hometown was certainly not something I wanted to miss out on. Here’s a show recap, and I’m going to do my best to incorporate some of the gear/live rig related stuff for all you gear junkies like myself out there.
8:30 p.m.: We Are the City’s Set (No Pics for this One. Sorry)
The side-staged drum set: I don’t know whether it’s just a function of the fact that bands without bass players tend to be the first opener and there needs to be room for all the other bands to stage their gear, or whether bands without bass players just innately prefer side-staging their drums. For some reason though, there’s a good chance the drummer is going to be side-staged in a band without a bass player. I also can’t tell whether this is an emerging phenomenon or whether this is something that has simply eluded my notice, but the bands without bass players I’ve seen over the past year or two have all had side-staged drums.
We Are the City are one such bassless trio hailing from Canada, who happened to be side-staging their drums for reasons unclear to me, since there appeared to be ample room for the guy to be facing the stage. They play a keyboard-driven brand of proggy indie pop rock that probably would not have been well received opening for a band like Cannibal Corpse, but worked within the proggy context of an evening with Cynic. Even the crustier audience members were polite and supportive, and there wasn’t a single boo or jeer to be heard despite the fact that the music clearly wasn’t what most of the audience members would ordinarily listen to. See, not all of us metal fans are rude, judgmental pricks.
Of all the bands of the evening, I can say that We Are the City’s music probably has the best chance of gaining some big time exposure—it was like watching an Apple Commercial, soundtrack and all. What solidified my prediction in this regard was seeing a girl snapping a photo with her iPhone of what appeared to be the band’s iMac they were using for their backing tracks. The ghost of Steve Jobs must have been screaming “ACQUIRE THIS SYNC LICENSE RIGHT THE FUCK RIGHT NOW!”
I usually don’t prefer this kind of music, but the drummer really kept things interesting. Yes, he was side-staged, but the dude was fucking on it. The singer had a solid vocal performance and clearly is a capable keyboard player, so there’s no lack of musicianship within the band. The guitarist seemed like he was there really to make noise more than to contribute either melodically or harmonically to the music, but that could have just been a sub-par sound guy failing to carve him into mix alongside keyboards occupying the same sonic frequencies.
A bassist would have really tied things together, IMO.
Notable gear: Keyboardist/vocalist rocking an old Fender Rhodes-like electric piano (couldn’t tell exactly if it was a Rhodes or not). Cool vintage gear bro.
Highlights: The drumming. Hands down.
Lowlights: Drummer decides to tie his shoes in front of everyone as the curtain closes after the set. Not exactly very rock and roll, and I would have probably just taken care of that off stage. Then again, I have to respect that level of not giving a fuck.
9:02 p.m.: Paul Misvidal walks by en route to the backstage entrance. I successfully resist the urge to attempt to elicit a high five out of him
9:15 p.m.: Lesser Key’s Set
The Lesser Key of Solomon (which Lesser Key’s name is presumably taken from) is a grimoire reportedly penned by King Solomon himself. The book is essentially a “how to” guide to summon various demons to do things for you like make you coffee in the morning, pick your kids up from school, iron your dress shirts, etc… Notably, British occultist Aleister Crowley was responsible for translating the English-language version of the book, a guy who has been the inspiration for many rock and metal musicians alike. To name a few, Jimmy Page at one point owned Crowley’s old house in Scotland where portions of The Song Remains the Same were filmed, Ozzy’s song Mr. Crowley was based on the guy, and Bruce Dickinson wrote the screenplay and contributed music for the awesomely awful 2008 movie “Chemical Wedding” (released under the name “Crowley” in the U.S.). Or maybe I’m wrong and the name has nothing to do with The Lesser Key of Solomon, but I’m gonna stick with that assumption anyway.
In any event, I was expecting some next-level, weird occult rock shit out of a band with that name, particularly in light of the fact that the band features founding Tool bassist Paul D’Amour on bass. While the band didn’t have the weird dark occult vibe I was expecting, this is the closest thing you’re gonna get to new Tool music anytime soon. D’Amour’s trademark aggressive bass picking and riffing clearly is the driving force behind the band, which basically plays Toolish hard rock (no surprise there). I’d hesitate to say that they aren’t exactly reinventing the wheel in that department, since D’Amour pretty much helped invent that wheel in the first place.
The singer is one of those “slide in and out of the notes” type of vocalists I’m not crazy about, but it was a solid performance throughout the entire set. There’s no new Tool album on the horizon despite that band’s periodic reassurances (which I’m calling bullshit on), so I’ll take Lesser Key in the meantime. That’ll do for now I suppose.
Notable gear: Guitarist actually rocking a Marshall Plexi—couldn’t tell whether it was an original or a reissue though. In an age of amp modeling, Rectifiers, and various amp heads Van Halen has attached his name to, some men still rock vintage/vintage styled gear without sounding like they’re trying to sound vintage.
Lowlights: No new Tool album.
10:25 p.m.: Cynic Gets Cynical
Cynic’s current mini-tour features Sean Malone on the fretless bass/chapman stick, his first time playing with Cynic live in over 20 years. Malone has remained Cynic’s bassist on album recordings, but the band has used a touring bassist to handle his duties since reuniting. In other words, this tour is a rare opportunity to see one of the most unbelievably talented bassists in metal out there. Seriously, “God-Tier” doesn’t even begin to describe this guy. As a former classical standup bassist and a fretless bass fan (even though I can never seem to mix fretless bass parts properly), I was beyond stoked to see Malone tear it up with Cynic.
Cynic’s set was fairly heavy on the new stuff, which is understandable since they have a new album to promote and all. The set list was as follows:
1. True Hallucination Speak
2. Evolutionary Sleeper
3. Carbon-Based Anatomy
4. Moon Heart Sun Head
5. Veil of Maya
6. Integral Birth (acoustic)
7. The Space for This
10. The Lions Roar
Encore: Kindly Bent to Free Us
I know a lot of Cynic fans weren’t exactly wild about the most recent album, but I enjoyed hearing the new material live. I too wasn’t the biggest fan of the stripped down, lower gain production choices on the new album, but the Kindly Bent to Free Us songs definitely had a lot more energy in a live setting and a little bit more gain on them guitars. It was also nice to actually hear Sean Malone in the mix on the songs off of Traced in Air, an album that buried his bass in the mix worse than Jimmy Hoffa.
The highlights of the night for me were Veil of Maya and the subsequent acoustic version of Integral Birth. The crowd went nuts at that first F-whatever chord at the start of Veil of Maya, and it was cool to hear Masvidal sing instead of the vocoder on that jam. The acoustic version of Integral Birth that followed was so fucking unbelievable that I’m pissed at myself for not getting any video of it. There’s an acoustic version of that song on the Re-Traced EP, but it pales in comparison to the live performance Masvidal and company provided. Especially groovy were Malone’s fretless bass solo and Reinert’s jazzy drum beat coming in at the very end, so there really needs to be some sort of petition to get Cynic to release a live version of that song recorded on this tour. Write your congressman or something. Seriously.
As to be expected, the performances were flawless and top notch.
Notable gear: The all powerful chapman stick! Cynic also appears to be 100% AxeFx for guitars and bass. With all the crazy guitar sounds they have to dial in to pull off some of these songs, I’d do the same thing. All you “purists” out there who claim that you’d rather tapdance on a pedal board the size of damn table instead can go right ahead—good luck with that.
Highlights: Veil of Maya, Integral Birth, Textures, chapman stick.
Lowlights: I really had to try to nitpick here, but couldn’t come up with anything beyond that it sounded like the second guitarist’s AxeFx feed was clipping a bit. Not sure if that was just a front of house that didn’t have much experience in dialing in DI guitars or what. It did not detract from the overall experience though.
Thou shalt not play guitars with headstocks when providing second guitar support for Cynic.
I don’t think Paul Masvidal realizes that no one can understand him if he talks to the audience with copious amounts of reverb and delay still engaged in his vocal chain.
The El Rey Theater was not even close to capacity. I would have expected a packed house in Cynic’s home town, but I can’t complain.
Paul Masvidal is a lot shorter than I thought he’d be.
Cynic’s mini-tour continues for a handful of dates on the East Coast starting August 7th in Philadelphia, and it’s not something to be missed if you can make it.
Anyone else see any of the other dates on this tour? If so, feel free to share your experience in the comment section below.
Keep on chugging. Keep on deedley dooing.