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Shock And Awesome: Meshuggah’s Anniversary Live In Chicago

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It’s been a quarter century, and what what exactly is it that we love about Meshuggah? Like, what makes Meshuggah what they are and why have they had such an influence on heavy music? In search of those answers, Meshuggah’s 25th Anniversary tour was created. 

What Meshuggah does is shock and awe. They reach into you by disconnecting the connection between your brain and body with their off-time, polyrhythmic sorcery. And for this 14-date celebration — which I caught June 15 in Chicago a few nights after it stopped at Bonnaroo (!) — they assembled a comprehensive set list and choreographed a rave-quality light show. And when the first song hit, it was apparent exactly who they are — and that they must be experienced in person.

Without greeting, they launched straight into a classic crowd-pleaser, channeling the waves made by openers Between The Buried And Me into a godforsaken and hellish sea — as Jens Kidman stood there with one leg propped on a floor monitor and screaming downward in that monotone shrill. Two stack-mounted LED light bars were placed on his either side and strobed his monolithic and granite presence. Really, really bad for epileptics.

Meshuggah_GrnaLundThroughout the night, Meshuggah seemed to make it a point to mix Contradictions Collapse-era shred tracks with beloved Koloss bruisers. (I about had a full on derp-giggle attack when they played my favorite track from None, “Gods Of Rapture.”) Guitarists Fredrik Thordendal and Mårten Hagström’s namesake eight-stringers had a torrential amount of bass; your chest caved in on each out-of-sync thump-thump-thump, but sucked back out via hard mids from Chaosphere-era riffage.

That’s when it got interesting: Once “Break Those Bones Whose Sinews Gave It Motion” began, people fucking openly cheered. The panning, colored beam lights moved up and down, creating laser streaks in the sweaty fog of pot smoke and, um, fog, and then shit went mad! The lightshow remained in sync, brutally accurate with each off-time chug. The venue’s main floor has one-step stadium levels with handrails, i.e. launching pads for crowdsurfers to reach out for Kidman’s bald, veiny, sweaty head. At moments, it was frightening, actually shocking enough to take you aback and make you mosh regardless of your mood. Paired with Kidman’s relative lack of dialogue — just a few “thank you Chicago!”s — you got that “this is fucking serious” feeling all over. Ya know, goosebumps and sweat.

Now that’s Meshuggah. The perfect mix of theater, pantomime, tribal rhythms, and weight. Their organization anchors their composition, but the liquidity and density of the Meshuggah sound is only available live. Few band you’ll see summon such ultimate power, the ability to rearrange your nerves and synapses, causing them to misfire and make it even difficult to headbang to a beat. It’s the disorientation that really shocks, and the power that awes! They’ve mastered this; nothing is more apparent when they’re on stage.

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