Band Offers All Musical Adventure
Last Tuesday, Dec. 4 at Peabody’s concert venue in Cleveland, the Dillinger Escape Plan dispelled any doubts that it is one of the most intense and adventurous metal bands right now. As a live band, the New Jersey-based five-piece still retains the brutal prowess and mathematical precision of a band at its peak, despite recording and touring since the mid ’90s and incurring various line-up changes.
After original drummer Chris Pennie’s departure in June of this year (for the inferior Coheed and Cambria) the only remaining original member is guitarist Ben Weinman. These problems could be debilitating to a band that demands such immaculate musicianship and exhaustive performances. Nevertheless, new member Gil Sharone assumed drumming duties with confidence and the band is currently touring in support of a critically acclaimed new album, Ire Works, released this past November. The opening acts were Genghis Tron and A Life Once Lost, both from Philadelphia.
Genghis Tron was relegated to performing on a confined strip of space at the front of the stage to a spare audience. Save for three or four people, most people seemed unfamiliar with this unique brand of electro-metalcore distinguished by angular guitar, keyboard riffs and electronic beats. The band mostly tested material from its upcoming 2008 release, Board Up the House. Its headlining set last March at the ’Sco was more satisfying, perhaps due to a more receptive audience and the benefit of a full stage on which to perform. The band itself expressed some dissatisfaction with undesired resonance coming through the PA system.
A Life Once Lost adheres to a traditional brand of heavy metal, with emphasis on bottom-heavy riffery and harmonized guitar solos. Unfortunately, it was the least distinct-sounding band on the bill, but was afforded the privilege to tour with the opulent lighting set-up that pushed Genghis Tron to the head of the stage.
When Dillinger Escape Plan arrived on the stage, LED lights flashing, I was unsure if it would excite me quite as it did when I saw the group in high school, soon after the 2004 release of Miss Machine. That album, which introduced current vocalist Greg Puciato and a more commercially palatable sound, was polarizing to purists who expected another Calculating Infinity, its 1999 full-length debut. As groundbreaking as Calculating Infinity was for all its inimitable technical complexity, the newer material for the most part does not compromise the group’s signature heaviness. The jazzy chord progressions and complex time signatures are not neglected in favor of pop viability, but DEP’s bludgeoning volatility now ceases for occasional moments of melody and ambiance. Considering that modern rock radio and the mainstream music press are not (yet) keen to such heavy music, DEP is at least still too challenging to win over the MTV demographic.
Charges leveled at DEP for compromises of artistic integrity are waylaid when the band performs. The band didn’t milk the opportunity to promote its new album, instead focusing on crowd-pleasing older material from Calculating Infinity (including “The Mullet Burden” and “43 Percent Burnt and Sugar Coated Sour”), even drawing from its transitional 2002 EP, Irony Is a Dead Scene, recorded with the ubiquitous and brilliantly versatile vocalist Mike Patton. “When Good Dogs Do Bad Things” and “Hollywood Squares” were handled with the necessary precision and vigor.
In Ire Works’ lean 39-minute running time, nuanced experiments with electronics and ambient sonic textures sporadically overtake the recording, but on stage DEP is relentlessly and exhaustively aggressive. The physicality of its live show threatens to literally take the stage apart, even risking injury. Greg Puciato possesses an intimidating physical presence (imagine the child of Abercrombie & Fitch and Donkey Kong) and guitarists Ben Weinman and Jeff Tuttle treated the stage like a playground. The band members jumped off the walls and the drum kit, climbed onto speakers and got dangerously close to crashing into one another and falling off stage, but all the while the performance of music survived. The intricately constructed songs didn’t get sloppy, even though the members were vigorously committed to testing the limits of their bodies and instruments.
DEP’s live show is a delicate balancing act wherein musicality and physicality are always seemingly close to tipping the scale in favor of one or the other. But surprisingly the band meets the high threshold of both unremitting physical chaos and virtuoso musicianship in equal measure.