LIVE REVIEW: Glassjaw at Center Stage

Glassjaw - Live at Center Stage
Photos by Moe Castro

“You don’t know! You don’t know! You don’t know!”

The crowd chanted in unison as the drum loop intro to “You Think You’re (John Fucking Lennon)” set off the show last Thursday at Center Stage. Slowly the boys came out one by one and the audience promptly lost their shit. As the first verse started with the huge, biting riff and manic vocals, it was a homecoming of sorts for me, both as a fan and as a musician. As a fan because they are one my top five favorite bands of all time, and they have the ability to take a man in his mid 30′s and make him behave like a 17-year-old rabid rock fan by singing and dancing his ass off. As a musician because not many bands are able to combine the technical with the emotional as well as Glassjaw does and my respect for them as players and songwriters was ratcheted up few notches by the end of the night.

The first three quarters of the set consisted of new material pulled from the Our Color Green EP released in January, as well as several selections from Worship and Tribute, including crowd favorite “Tip Your Bartender” steamrolling right into “Mu Empire,” just like on the record. I was also stoked to hear deeper cuts from the Worship sessions with “Convectuoso” and “El Mark” making a welcome appearance on the setlist. They also unleashed a blistering version of “Siberian Kiss,” the lone track they played from their debut LP, Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Silence, which almost caused a goddamn riot.

A lot has changed in the near decade since the last time I saw them live. Aside from personnel changes, the musicianship is considerably better and performance-driven. Daryl’s stage presence is drastically different. No longer is he frantic like he’s suffering from tourettes. He’s still captivating as a frontman, but now he’s mellowed and turned up the sass factor. Which I have time for. His vocal performance was stellar. He’s one of the very few in the game that, within the same breath, can go from bloodcurdling screams to sounding like fucking Sade. Shit never ceases to amaze me.

Glassjaw - Live at Center Stage

The rhythm section was tight as a gnat’s ass. Manny’s tone was disgusting. He’s mastered the use of distortion for bass. Somehow it breaks up just right, but it still retains definition and you can understand everything he does. His clean tone was almost dub—fat and round with tons of bottom end like something out of the best-produced reggae. And Durijah Lang was a monster. He doesn’t hit especially hard, but he’s got control and meter, and he does all manner of polyrhythmic shit while still owning the pocket.

And Beck, of course, was Beck. He did what he’s always done: stand in front of his rig, head nodding, looking like a cocky bastard. But in a good way. He did impress me with his use of keys and baritone guitar, both of which are featured predominately on all the songs from the new EP, Coloring Book.

And that’s where we end—with the encore. The last quarter of the set consisted of Coloring Book in it’s entirety. The EP is quite a departure from the Glassjaw everyone knows and loves. It’s airy, ambient, and almost dancy at times. It still fits within the Glassjaw canon, it is indeed a natural progression and it’s well-executed, but it was also stuff that none of us had heard before. Ever. It felt like an odd choice to not intersperse these songs throughout the rest of the night. I feel all this music would have been much easier to digest had they revealed it small doses rather than in one extended mini-set. After three songs in, unrest was sweeping over the crowd like the goddamn plague. Folks were slack-jawed and frustrated. Belligerent even. By the end of the night the band had lost just about everyone. We were all sure they’d close with “Motel of the White Locust” or “Pretty Lush” to go out with a bang. We all wanted to get our faces ripped off one last time. That ain’t happened though. So I was disappointed and a bit perplexed upon exiting the venue and on the drive home. After all, it might be another ten years before I see them live again, if ever at all.

But Glassjaw knew exactly what they were doing. They were making a statement. The more I pondered it, the more I got it. This wasn’t about leaving a bad taste in anyone’s mouth. It never was. It was about being an artist and leaving people with the best example of the art they create. Kudos. Had I been in their shoes, I probably would’ve done the same. And that’s part of the reason I’ve not stopped replaying this show in my head over and over and over again.

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