When news first hit the metal scene in late January that the rumours of the first ever Cloudkicker tour in history happening alongside stalwarts TesseracT and Intronaut were actually true, it was to prog-metal fans like myself what the announcement of the 2007 Led Zeppelin reunion show was to geriatric Rolling Stone writers. Enough ejaculate was prematurely shot out in rampant glee to offspring an entire island’s worth of palm-muting infants.
My brother-in-law and I were lucky enough to have given an opportunity from Century Media Records to cover the tour’s stop at the great Studio Seven in Seattle on Tuesday, April 15th. For me, the hype leading up to this day was absolutely through the roof. In preparation, I excitedly listened through Cloudkicker’s entire discography, and during this process, Cloudkicker quickly became one of my favourite bands, which only made the anticipation that much more heated.
Our night at the concert didn’t exactly start out on fire, however. In what it seems is par for the course when trying to enter a venue through means of being on a premade guest list, we were denied access because of my name apparently not being on the list. We decided to fuck around at the amazing nearby Silver Platters for a while before trying to get in again, and after they looked through the list again, it turned out my name was on there, just spelled entirely wrong (Ben Casebeer…). I’m not sure exactly when we were granted access inside, but it was far enough into the show to unfortunately miss the first opening local band. Sorry Burn the Threshold. I’m sure your music is fantastic.
Soon thereafter, we were treated to the second opening local band, Lb.!, pronounced like “pound”, as in, “Let’s pound your earholes until they forcefully punch out through your nostrils.” The music of Lb.! was your fairly standard instrumental djent affair, performed by just a guitarist and a drummer, the latter of which would alternate between two different setups. Their sound wasn’t really anything discernable from the hundreds of MOR chugga-chugga-chugga-chugga-choo-choo bedroom djent projects you can find on got-djent.com’s Free Downloads section, and the only thing that really stood out about these guys was that they were by far the loudest band of the night. By the end of their set, my ears were already averaging 160kbps. To give credit where it’s due, though, they at least got things started the right way.
Up next was (in my mind) the main event: the mysterious Ben “Cloudkicker” Sharp. I’ll be the first to admit, as much as I cannot fellate Cloudkicker’s mammoth todger enough, I was kind of skeptical about how Sharp’s music would translate to a live show. Sure, Sharp has more than a handful of heavy, energetic songs (the entire ]]][[[ EP, for instance), but the majority of his albums are paced in such a way that heavy progressive metal riffs are balanced excellently with slow ambient buildups, and I just wasn’t sure how well he would be able to pull that off live.
Luckily, Cloudkicker’s performance was just as controlled and to-the-point as it needed to be. Since Ben Sharp isn’t fucking Oswald, he obviously couldn’t play all of the required instruments by himself, so members of fellow performers Intronaut stepped in as his backing band, and the four of them played off of each other perfectly.
The thing that stood out to me the most about Cloudkicker’s set was how abstracted Sharp was. A lot of the time performers will speak to and interact with the audience as much as they possibly can during their set, but he seemed to be as removed as possible. He seldom looked out at the audience, as his eyes were fixated towards his shoes for the majority of his set, and he only ever spoke to the audience once a portion of the way through to thank them all for coming, and that they had three more songs left. It was almost as if Ben Sharp was lost in his own little world of introspection, and was letting the audience inside through means of sound, which was very appropriate considering Cloudkicker’s dreary, almost shoegaze-esque post-metal.
While the next band Intronaut was setting up, Ben was collecting his gear and speaking to fans that approached him for a short while. I approached him and asked him if he’d be willing to take a picture with me, and he said that he would be doing autographs and pictures after the show at the merch table. We unfortunately had to leave right after the concert, so I didn’t get the opportunity, so Ben, if you’re out there, you owe me a picture, you fucking musical genius.
Intronaut took the stage fairly soon thereafter. I’ll be the first to admit, I wasn’t exactly the biggest Intronaut fan before the concert. I’d listened to their latest album Habitual Levitations (Instilling Words with Tones) before the show, and I thought it was an interesting blend of depressive 90s alt rock and progressive metal (they almost reminded me of if Alcest lovingly ate out Alice in Chains), but it wasn’t really something I was thinking about 24/7 since I’d heard it.
Despite my indifference going into their set, they put on a pretty good show, especially visually. Their set had a precarious fog machine, a projector screen showing all sorts of really cool spacey imagery, and coolest of all, several of those moving laser lights you buy at Spencer’s, which, combined with the thick fog, was just splendiferous to look at. The tone of their performance was just as relaxed and collected as Cloudkicker’s, and watching their set from beginning to end without moving from my spot brought me (and I assume the rest of the crowd) into a dreamlike trance of wonderment. Even if the microphone quality was so weak it might as well have been an instrumental Intronaut concert, they were still delightful to see live.
Last up was the headlining band, the djent progenitor themselves TesseracT. Now, I’ve always liked TesseracT. I admire their ability to fuse the contemporary prog-metal sound of the likes of Protest the Hero and The Devin Townsend Project with the spirit of more power metal-esque prog-metal bands like Dream Theater and Symphony X, and I much prefer their style to the Volumes formula of boringly mixing djent with metalcore, while not having either’s strong points or even their memorable points.
In terms of performance, TesseracT was by and large the most entertaining band of the night. They were the most consistently heavy band of the touring acts, so it made sense for them to be as mobile and interactive as they were. Vocalist Ashe O’Hara spastically danced about the stage like it was covered in hot plates, splashing full water bottles onto the audience and enthusiastically speaking with them as much as possible in between songs. It was the complete antithesis to the other two bands, whose sets played out like their albums, flowing seamlessly from song to song with a very small amount of breaks.
The band sounded just as great live as they do on their albums, if not better. From the gloominess of “Resist” to the soaring melodies of “Nocturne”, TesseracT brought their all with every last song. The audience was definitely feeling it too, as they were jumping at the chance to form a mosh pit at every opportune moment. They savagely shouted for an encore, and loved every last minute of it.
Speaking of which, that was the best part of the night by far: the feeling of mutuality. It wasn’t like going to a concert with a weird lineup like Asking Alexandria and Born of Osiris where you can easily tell who’s there to see who by whether or not their hair is neon pink and shaved on one side. Here, everybody was excited to see every performer, and the waves of hype could be felt all throughout the night. The crowd was equal parts nerds and hipsters with plenty of overlap, and it was a wholly welcoming environment.
All in all, the Seattle stop on the Altered State Tour was absolutely splendid. The music was consistently great, the performances were fitting for each band’s style, the atmosphere of the in-between-sized venue was euphoric, and the whole night was one I won’t soon forget. If you ever have the opportunity to see any of these bands live (especially Cloudkicker, who may or may not even be touring again after this concert), I’d highly recommend you do. They all put on a satisfying show, and you’ll be just as enthralled as I was.