Real talk: I’ve been in a lot of instrumental indie rock bands, so I’m usually a pretty hard sell on it. That’s not because I’m some kind of expert or wizard on guitar (especially when compared to Messthetics guitarist Anthony Pirog… damn, son), but just that it usually feels like a one trick thing. Of course, that’s my own insecurities talking, where I feel like the music that I made skewed towards those aforementioned tricks, the kind of histrionics and study foolery that serves as the centerpiece, rather than flourish on the song. I’m not impressed with odd time signatures or polyrhythms; I’m very impressed by implementing those musical elements into songs that otherwise carry some emotional valence. Of course, this is all a preface to The Messthetics alone, as opener Ave Flume and second up Cat Casual & The Final Word did their own thing in their own way.
First up was Ave Flume. I wasn’t feeling it, but that’s no reflection on the music presented here, if only because I came with something a little more upbeat in mind. The work of ex-Farewell Bend/Six Bells figurehead Brandon Butler, Ave Flume is his alt-country tinged solo work. What I caught was melancholy and singer songwriter heavy, which was performed incredibly well. I enjoyed Butler’s voice and his guitar had a nice twang to the work, allowing plenty of space between the notes and letting that ambience carry part of the story. That said, the weather is super dope and I had some pals that I don’t get to see enough on account of being the most major-ist of all dads. Well, I’m not like a Dugger dad or something (for, like, multiple reasons), so I guess I could go harder at dad-ing, but still: I don’t get out much.
As I was returning from my time chillaxing with the bois on the patio, I heard drums towards the end of his set, and understand that Brendan Canty joined Butler on stage, which seems cool. What I caught, I dug.
Cat Casual went up next (pictured above). With few exceptions, I feel that William Benton is at his finest under his Cat Casual persona, which remains fluid enough to incorporate a host of supporting musicians into the fold. The sound was a bit piercing when he played, but that’s pretty easily filed under not-really-anyone’s-fault, because sound is a such a fickle beast that it’s not always easy to pin down. Beyond that though, the band was on fire, with Benton showing a restraint on the guitar earned from years of experience on . his instrument. Instead, the bass is more often the core of the sound, with everyone else playing around bassist Sean Gardner’s solid thump. It was a solid set from everyone involved, and an absolute treat to watch their keyboardist, whose name escapes me, and his on stage antics. I really dug it.
Holy hot hell, y’all: the Messthetics were cold blooded (pictured above). Like I mentioned up top, I’m always a little skeptical of instrumental indie, if only because it seems to exist for other musicians, but this, well, this wasn’t that. There are some intense prog rock moments here that would satisfy fans of King Crimson or Mahavishnu Orchestra, and some incredibly beautiful moments of pure beauty, jazz oriented breaks from the overt intensity of the rest of the set. The thing is, even the quiet moments were pregnant with possibility, with the feeling that anything might happen in the song, be that from Pirog and his mastery of his domain, or from Canty and bassist Joe Lally who have the kind of onstage rapport you’d expect from people who have played together for so long.
Do yourself a favor — don’t sleep on The Messthetics. This is not a Fugazi redux (which would be nice in its own right), but something wholly fresh. There are a lot of genres represented here too, but they never feel like anything other than themselves. Hell, it’s a few days later, and I still have a bangover. That’s gotta say something.
Photos by Mike Seymour