Simon Handmaker | June 11, 2017
Math rock occupies a weird space in the terrain of modern music, something mostly owed to its dichotomous stylings and elusive, hard-to-pin-down nature as a genre. Like all genres, different bands incorporate their own flourishes into the hallmark sound and tropes that give the genre its distinct personality, but with math rock, these flourishes can lead to wildly different sounding groups that attract audiences that are, at times, polar opposites.
CHON’s “Homey” Tour is a perfect example of this: of the four bands here - CHON, Tera Melos, Little Tybee, and Covet - only the first and last of these bear much sonic resemblance to one another. This pair shares a more relaxed, instrumental sound, full of reverberating major chords and Guthrie Govan-esque solos that somehow manage to sound chilled-out while shredding up the fretboard. Tera Melos and Little Tybee, however, couldn’t be more different and still find any common ground with their tourmates, or each other. The former is absolute sonic chaos; the three virtuosic musicians of Tera Melos seem at times to be playing entirely different songs, drums, guitar, and bass kaleidoscoping around one another in complex polyphonies before melting into ambient interludes or brief, chunky grooves. Little Tybee, on the other hand, plays almost hypnagogic, jazzy indie-pop, only connected to the other three bands by virtue of their talented, technical use of their instruments.
It’s been awhile since any of these bands have been out on the road, so the Cobra Lounge show sold out pretty soon after it was announced. Especially impressive, considering it was a weeknight, but the enthusiasm was certainly there for these groups. The venue was already crowded by the time Covet took the stage, and although their set was brief, this Californian trio wowed the gathered audience. Guitar powerhouse Yvette Young set the bar unrealistically high for the following acts: her playing was pristine and her demanding style of writing sounded just as good live as it does on record. Bassist David Adamiak, while not playing particularly technical stuff himself, was clearly in tune with his bandmates, swaying and grooving to the music constantly, and Keith Grimshaw’s drumwork, while sparse and not as imaginative or jazzy as it could have been, was on point. Any reservations were shattered at the beginning of the first song, and their set was equal parts impressively performed and pleasantly enjoyable, matching the tone of their music perfectly.
Following their set, Tera Melos took the stage. (Little Tybee was supposed to play between these two acts, but van problems prevented them from making it to Chicago in time for the show.) For a band that invokes such a tornado of barely-organized chaos in the recording studio, their live show was pretty cohesive: each member of the trio was locked in with the other two and brought an insane amount of energy to an altogether incredible show. Pulling mostly from the math-rock-goes-pop vibes of their most recent two records, Patagonian Rats and x’ed out, their set alternated between relaxed and explosive; the recurring modus operandi was to let loose bombastic freakouts before mellowing out for a little while, giving the audience a chance to recuperate before the next explosion of energy. It worked perfectly, and their set went off without a hitch.
There was a surprisingly long break between Tera Melos and CHON, given that the latter had all their gear already set up on stage behind the former. By the time the young foursome had taken stage, audience anticipation was tangible. Having seen the band before, I had a solid idea of what to expect from their show, and it was mostly the same: really, really clean playing, but almost zero stage presence or audience interaction. Anybody who wanted to come to this show to hear music played live almost perfectly would have walked away happy, but those who expected a performance of any sort were surely disappointed by the band. None of CHON’s members did much beyond sway slightly while playing their instruments, which doesn’t really lead to a whole lot of excitement or fun. It’s easy to be impressed by how smooth they sound for a couple tracks, but anywhere beyond fifteen minutes into their show and you start to realize that seeing them live is basically wasted money when you could just listen to their records and get pretty much the exact same effect. It’s not an enticing prospect to just go watch four guys stand on a stage and noodle for upwards of a half hour while just standing there.
Overall, though, this was far from a bad show. All the bands sounded great, and even though the night’s capstone was relatively underwhelming, there’s still something to be said for just being around other people while listening to the music. If you’re a fan of any of the bands on this tour, I’d highly recommend seeing it, because it’s tough to not walk away satisfied with the opening acts, even if the headliner themselves doesn’t exactly take the cake.