Hype can be a double-edged sword. On one hand it gains attention and grabs new fans, on the other it creates unrealistic standards that are nearly impossible to live up to.
Mutemath’s live show is something that has been hyped up to me since high school. I’ve long been a fan of the band but had never seen them live, only hearing friends and writers throw around hyperbolic praise like “life-changing” and “unbelievable”. So when I was finally afforded the opportunity to catch the group on their current Play Dead Live tour, I knew it was finally time to witness the spectacle for myself.
The night kicked off with a pair of impressive openers in ROMES and Colony House. The former are a Toronto-based group with a forthcoming debut record that blend neon-tinged pop with heavy funk instrumentation. The easy comparison is to The 1975, but ROMES seem to operate less in sticky hooks and more in hip-shaking grooves. Their live show is driven by the rhythm section, carried by intricate drumming and jaw-dropping bass lines. The latter hail from Tennessee and offer a wide range of sounds encompassed by the indie rock flag. Colony House dabbled in extremely powerful guitar riffs while also showing a keen ear for simple hooks. They flexed their muscles on some faster, driving cuts again propelled by stellar drumming but showed equal touch in the softer moments. All in all both openers showcased a broad music taste that paired nicely with the headliner without coming off as simply “Mutemath-esque” bands.
When it was finally time for the highly-anticipated headlining act, Mutemath took the whited-out stage in similarly whited out attire and, awash with swirling lights projected at them, ripped into the psychedelic romp “War”. That kicked off what was predictably a Play Dead-heavy set, really digging into the refreshing new album and all its intricate details.
The first thing you notice at a Mutemath show is the dominated presence of frontman Paul Meany. The man is a force on the stage, flying around (and on top of) every surface while frantically squirming about with endearing and infectious dance moves. He’s also versatile, looking just as comfortable alone at the microphone as he is at his keyboard piano or draped in his signature keytar. Musically, Meany is able to replicate his vocal performances flawlessly while also injecting his raw emotion into the delivery without ever bending to fatigue, an impressive feat given the length of the set.
The second thing you notice is the sheer talent in play across the entire band. Fairly straightforward songs are twisted and manipulated into sprawling jams, with the group weaving different parts in and out of each other as extended outros and bridges filled the room. It was a striking experience and while Meany’s vocals garner most of the spotlight, the musicianship around the stage was the true backbone of the show.
The band tore through their set, spanning a substantial catalogue for not only fan favorites but album cuts that really take on another life in a live setting. There was the free-flowing jam during Odd Soul standout “Tell Your Heart Heads Up”, the sing-along magic of early gem “Noticed” and the surprise emotional weight of “Odds” off of (their best record in my opinion) Armistice.
While the show was firing on all cylinders based off the technical tightness of the band alone, there was a slew of moments throughout that continued to elevate the performance. There was Meany swinging a lone lightbulb over his head during a heart-pounding rendition of “Spotlight”, his young daughter jumping on stage for an adorable dance routine during “Pixie Oaks” and the frontman surfing atop the crowd on a light-up air mattress during “Quarantine”. They may be small but it’s moments like those that can really create a special atmosphere when it comes to a live show.
In a personal moment speaking directly to the crowd toward the end of the set, Meany addressed the elephant in the room that is the departure of drummer of co-founder Darren King. The band’s replacement on the tour, David Hutchinson, was a fantastic part of the show, really showing off his chops throughout, but King was an integral part of the band and Meany knows that. The frontman vowed to honor the former drummers legacy and what he helped build in an emotionally resonate way, then going on to thank the fans for becoming such a wonderful community around a band that “isn’t going to be playing arenas”. The powerful moment then morphed into the band taking on their final two cuts, instrumental powerhouse “Reset” and breakout single “Typical”, both off the band’s beloved self-titled debut. I had high hopes on the former, which it lived up to with over the top flairs throughout and an appearance from the fabled Atari guitar, which Meany brought into the crowd at one point to give fans a shot. Then came the closer, a unifying presence that ignited every voice in the crowd and capped off a celebratory night.
In terms of how hyped up it has been over the years, it’s hard to say how exactly Mutemath’s live show lived up to expectations. But one thing is for sure – the band poured everything they had into sculpting a performance that would leave attendees in awe. And they succeeded.