PERIPHERY BRINGS THE RIPH TO CONNECTICUT
Photos by Robert Bejil
It’s weird. Mention Periphery to any person on the street and they’ll think nothing of it. But speak their name to those who know, and it’s like you just dropped “Jeezy” at an As I Lay Dying concert. Periphery have become a huge band in the warped little snow globe of the metal landscape.
As a person who’s listened as the sextet has grown and evolved, and go through singers like cheez balls, seeing them live was an experience that I was far overdue to have. I had my chance about a week ago when the group ventured over to Hartford Connecticut’s Webster Theater supporting Fair to Midland along with Scale the Summit [Alas, they have since dropped off the tour. -Ed.]. The evening turned out to be a proggy feast I won’t soon forget.
“You’re covering this for Metalsucks? Yeah, we’re gonna’ need a better picture than that…”
HARTFORD, CT 4/1/11: The audience members stand uncomfortably close to each other: a profusely sweating mass. Glasses — kinky curls — acne —white beards. No girls — at least, none without red and purple hair. They have their sweatshirts draped around their waists, allowing their bodies to ventilate and their shirts to sit on display. Dream Theater — TOOL — MASTODON. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a band shirt is worth several. What you listen to, who you associate with, which show you saw when — it’s all there.
(results not typical)
The congregation stands still. Not moshing, not headbanging — certainly not dancing: absorbing. The first band on this unusual night at Hartford’s Webster Theater is the progressive alt-rock act Mile Marker Zero.
The five twenty-somethings just finished performing their eleven-minute opus, “Peril Aerial,” a loaded composition stacked with piano-laced riffs, discordant solos, and triumphant tenor lines. A pot-belied man with a trucker hat and frosty bristles across his face smiles as the last note decays. His teenage son, next to him, does the same. “Progressive rock is not dead — don’t let anybody tell you otherwise,” the group’s vocalist, Dave Alley, says defiantly.
Mile Marker’s performance is tight and intense, effectively setting the mood for the evening. Despite the length and occasional indulgence of their material, it maintains coherence and accessibility throughout, something that cannot be said about the succeeding act.
Mark of Cain takes the stage looking as if they just walked out of trig class: collared shirts, baggy cargos, and Tool t’s all intact. “BASS SOLO” the front row chants as the band’s opening salvo comes to a skidding halt. The guys can clearly play, but the instrumental quartet has more noodling than a box of Kraft mac ‘n cheese, with no discernable melodic hooks or flow to their songs. It isn’t quite clear where each song starts or ends — the set felt mostly like a single blob of shreddy fret worship. Mark of Cain does have quite a bit of potential and appear to be only high schoolers, so they might have time to reign in their wild-horse chops.
Scale the Summit realizes in their sound what Mark of Cain is perhaps working toward. This may be unfair to say, given that the Houston fusion metal collective is a national touring act, but the juxtaposition of their sets makes the conclusion inevitable.
A brief swell of strings is cut off as guitarist Chris Letchford announces, “We are Scale the Summit.” With the decree, the band bursts into “Colossal,” the celestial opening track off their latest release, The Collective. Their entire set was drawn from this recent work, which, while quite beautiful and diverse in its own right, becomes so much more so in a live setting. Despite having no vocal spotlight and plenty of technically challenging parts, these four young men ruled the stage; their LED banner affirmed it.
The traffic between Summit’s set and Periphery’s is comparable to I95 at 4pm on the Friday of Memorial Day weekend. Guitars, lots of guitars, are rushed on and off stage as the Maryland technical metal ensemble readies their gear. There are six members in the band, and yet, they still seem dwarfed by the enormous stacks of glimmering technology nearly edging them off the stage.
“Misha has an Axe FX; it’s crazy,” one fan says of the group’s lead guitarist and frontman. “It’s upsetting!” a fellow guitar nerd interjects. The two speak of the amp simulators the group’s axe-men use to produce their signature high-gain, staccato-crazed sound.
Let there be low end. With the first crunching chord of Periphery’s set the organ-rendering mix of polyrhythmic baritone and shimmering melodic overlay has the audience moving and clapping horrendously off rhythm. Thank djentness for click tracks.
Singer Spencer Sotelo is forced to step behind to make room in the front of the stage for the group’s four-strong string section. “I’m gonna’ sit in the corner awkwardly while these guys do their thing,” he quips. The little man returns not long after to howl and belt his way through their first proper song, “The Letter Experiment,” a track with fittingly epic lyrical content. It tells the mythical tale of Orpheus in the underworld — now if that ain’t progressive …
The Rifferies tended to most of the fan-favorites like “Light,” “Icarus Lives,” and their soon-to-be-radio-single, “Jetpacks Was Yes!” with their newly recorded bruiser “Frak the Gods” (a recent MetalSucks premiere) heavying out the mix.
Periphery’s sound on record is extremely produced and pro-tools perfected. Seeing them live offers a raw window into their talents, which are all at once rocking and reassuring. Reassuring in the sense that these guys aren’t androids with instruments, but also that, by and large, one of the most processed bands in metal today can play their own shit, and play it damn well. Drummer Matt Halpern is dead on, the guitar trio meticulously fills out their rich wall of sound, and Sotelo hits every sky-intruding note. And you know what, Bulb can play a dud note every once in a while, and the world doesn’t implode in the process!
It is especially clear by this point that Spencer has fully integrated his role into the band. As new recordings have suggested, the guy has beefed up his harsh range big time and his cleans, while a little coarser live, still hit the mark. He’s also a regular comedian. “Let’s hear it for Claudio Sanchez on guitar,” he says with Monuments’ big-haired fret wizard, John Browne, to his side. Periphery is relentlessly silly, but serious in every musical aspect. Their audience and their genre is the same.
John Browne from Monuments filling in for Jake Bowen on guitar
Fair to Midland, the evening’s official headliner, trickles on stage in a less than suspecting fashion. It takes some time before even the group’s adoring front row realizes that the whacko stumbling around on stage in a smiley muscle-shirt and medical mask is none other than vocalist Darroh Sudderth — a special guy indeed.
The Texan crazies face some technical difficulties, but fortunately bassist Jon Dicken keeps the audience engaged with his off-the-cuff stand up. One senses that the sound man was less than enthused:
Sound Man: Talk — er, play bass.
Dicken: Talk or play bass? I prefer talking: it’s easier.
Sound Man: Play bass.
Dicken: ♪ Well I can’t believe … you’re pregnant … again ♪
In the midst of this, a guy in a visibly sweaty shirt initiates a lone chant: “PROG –ROCK, PROG – ROCK!” It’s already pretty cool, attending a progressive rock showcase and all, but you know you’re just a straight baller when you can start a slow clap to your genre of choice and continue doing it with everyone in your periphery (couldn’t resist) stink-eying the shit out of you.
Fortunately, the band acts to quickly relieve the audience of this noise polution. They tear in with the seething distortion and disco beats of the brand new track, “Whiskey and Ritalin.” Taking off from a wide-mouthed “AHHHHHHH” Sudderth swoons into a feathery falsetto and his band mates complement his extremes with honed bipolarity. Other new stands outs include their recent single “Musical Chairs,” the Beatles metal “Rikki Tikki Tavi,” and their encore “Coppertank Island” (“a song about a coppertank on an island“).
The band also breaks out the classic goodies like “Dance of the Manatee,” “Walls of Jericho,” and the fitting “April Fools and Eggmen.” Fair to Midland is tighter on this occasion than they have seemingly ever been, but still have visibly more fun than any other act on the bill. Sudderth is in particularly maniacal form, crowd surfing off the miniscule underground stage and sailing across the ceiling wires. The sound man was duly impressed. The singer also wins the award for most metal moment of the night for clamping down on his mic and screeching into it with a bloody mouth. Talk about getting your money’s worth.
So it seems prog isn’t dead after all. Some fans may have a photon laser rifle held to its head, but they’re doomed to miss every time. This night wasn’t about Inu Yasha, StarCraft, noobs, or pwning of any kind, it was a communal celebration of art on the edge (and fashion off a cliff…). You can love progressive rock without hollering it in someone’s face and The Matrix without walking around in a trench-coat and shades. It’s the music that matters, and this evening affirmed it.
Read more of Ben’s musings on metal at Broken Sticks.