With the venue filled to capacity, eager fans stand happily watching as a variety of sound engineers carry out final configurations on stage.
Two violinists begin to play a soft melody whilst a third anonymous character takes a spot behind a laptop. All three musicians so far are hidden beneath peaked caps and face masks. Finally, Johan Lenox appears, he’s sporting what looks like many layers of grey ripstop, dungarees worn at half-mast, with trails of neon orange parachute cords and a casual sash-like scarf that contradicts the shiny chains around his neck. This style and outfit befit the unique Hip-Hop infused music that he proceeds to perform. He sings the first song softly over a thumping bass beat and casts an easygoing playful vibe throughout the room with the crowd moving in time. The mood changes with each song; the second is more sorrowful with an almost slurred speech; the third is subtly lit with pink lighting and the vocals gentle as he crouches on one knee. Between songs JL chats easily to the crowd telling the story of how an acid-fuelled musical experience completely changed his life (leading him to depart Boston for LA and onto the path of string arrangements) there are cheers as he thanks the audience and Polyphia for giving him this opportunity. Voice samples and spacey sound effects provide an accompaniment for the fourth song in which the strings and beats are paused, the laptop beat-maker instead encouraging a sway of phone-camera lights to add to the ambience. The next three songs see a return to funky strutting, the highest vocal notes of the set and lyrics relating to surviving on tacos and early deadlines.
It is the final song that really packs a punch however, a fifteen minute Classical composition further demonstrating JL’s musical skills. The atmosphere (and sound level) is wrenched up as he heads for the keyboard again. This piece involves a lot of piano but has a fantastic beat behind it and the way that he proficiently conducts the violinists whilst he plays gives the music a flight that swoops down before lifting you high. There are rolling piano notes alongside singular sustained ones – the force behind the playing matched accordingly – as he flips through pages of sheet music, taking the sound to almost silence before tip-toeing the violins back in, you can hear the crowd excitedly chattering at these parts but they are equally mesmerised with the performance, infact, only a few have noticed that Polyphia have crept onto a viewing platform at the left of the stage to witness this performance. JL is completely immersed in his music and it pays off with huge applause and a great reaction to his set, throughout.
The room blackens and the cheers begin. Blue light boxes amongst the cabs flash sporadically below a large digital graphics screen and white spotlights at the side of the stage flash as the band take to stage. Launching into ‘Genesis’ the first track from their most recent album Remember That You Will Die, their signature intricate-yet-buoyant polyphony of sound fills the venue and the hotchpotch crowd are animated into several styles of partying. The Funk behind this music soaks into you, ready or not and even the photographers appear be dancing over one another in the pit. The line-up on stage remains relatively the same throughout the evening with Scott LePage (guitar) at stage right, bassist Clay Gober in the middle, Tim Henson (lead guitar) stage left and drummer Clay Aeschliman somewhat hidden in the backline despite the slightly raised platform that he and his kit are positioned on. The act hinges on precision and so a guitar tech flits about the stage a fair amount too, repositioning gaffer tape, checking wires and switching out multiple guitars; including those magnificent eight-strings.
The music is complex but the stage banter is simple, it’s mainly SLP who addresses the crowd. It’s his birthday and so he is demanding a large amount of crowd surfing by the fourth song ‘Goose.’ Two willing participants are straight up but it’s not enough according to Scott. Another four hurtle across “Keep that shit up, baby!” he laughs and that’s enough to ensure steady tumble of surfers for the rest of the gig. It’s fascinating to watch how this seems to blend seamlessly even with the softer edges of some of the songs. The band are capturing live footage for ‘Reverie’ tonight and so further hoards of sweaty bodies ride the rhythmic waves, they’re all incredibly polite about it though and quick to return to the floor giving others a chance to be filmed. ‘Audacity’ follows, featuring a great bass showcase from CG. Security has their work cut out, catching bodies this evening, but even they are smiling.
With house lights up on his command, SLP conducts the all areas of venue in a cheeky round of cheering before announcing a game of “Sing the riff.” The crowd continues to provide an almost lyrical content where necessary. The enthusiasm is high, both on and off stage and as the band leave, the inevitable chant of “One more song” begins. They return and promise two more songs, the tax for this being a giant wall of death which is immediately granted as ‘G.O.A.T’ begins. The second encore song is a cover of CKY’s ‘Quite Bitter Beings’ which has SLP providing vocals. The band still aren’t ready to stop though and decide to throw things back one last time by playing ‘Euphoria’ as well. This seems a very fitting song and what’s more, ends with TH and CG stagediving into the unsuspecting crowd. Polyphia have worked their stage magic, taking the fans on a trip through an exhilarating showcase of their songs from 2014 to present day and leaving happy faces in their wake.
REVIEW: SUZI BOOTZ
Photography: Emma Painter // Pacific Curd Photography
ALL FALLS APART
CKY (cover of ‘96 Quite Bitter Beings’)