Here’s a fun and interactive question for you: what do you normally expect to see at a prog rock show? I personally have a checklist: long hair, barely any women, t-shirts repping bands you’ve never heard of and are probably too young for, songs about fantasy books and video games, the one guy who doesn’t “get it,” and grown men pondering complex music while stroking their various amounts of chin hair in a pose that would, but for the law, include a pipe. This last Friday’s bill at Montreal’s Bar Le Ritz – which brought New Jersey natives Thank You Scientist to our fair city – completed my list, and gave me prog rock bingo.
After a lovely sit down with the boys in Thank You Scientist during which we discussed the finer points of Pornhub (not linked here), BL photographer Danny and I enjoyed a cold beer while local boys Bird Problems opened the evening with their blend of jazz, post rock, and metalcore. They’re a young group and their show doesn’t seem to be fully put together yet, but their music is solid, and if they stick it out (which hopefully they will for at least a little while; they are in the process of recording an album) then I think we can expect great things from them. Guitarist Joseph Anidjar in particular has some seriously impressive chops and is a talent to watch for. Frontman Michael Smilovitch kept pronouncing all of the band names in weird ways (Bird PROblems, The Tea CLUB, Thank You ScientIST) but that’s okay, because at least he can sing.
Pennsylvania natives The Tea Club started their set with a big, building prog composition and then… technical difficulties. That’s okay, because to tide things over, frontman Patrick McGowan treated us to an awesome rendition of King Crimson’s “Epitaph,” which showcased his fantastic voice and served as a fitting tribute to recent fallen prog warrior, Greg Lake. Not many people seemed to recognize the tune in a room full of supposed prog fans, but that’s okay, I forgive them. Once the band fixed whatever issues they were having, the rest of the set went very smoothly. These guys know nuance. Building from beautiful voice and piano-driven harmony sections through huge riffs and heavily atmospheric classic-rock breakdowns, the music rarely subsided until the last song “I Shall Consume Everything,” which was naturally inspired by The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask. (Check!) There was a guy dressed as Jesus dancing to this track next to the merch table, and now my life is complete.
Being the band which fit the least on the bill didn’t seem to bother Moon Tooth too much. Though their fairly straightforward southern hardcore seemed like a headscratcher next to the more cerebral leanings of the other three acts, they definitely shot a jolt of energy into the evening’s proceedings. They incited moshpits and dancing, and proclaimed Montreal to be the rowdiest crowd of the tour. At one point singer John Carbone retreated from the stage to supposedly go read an encyclopedia (a likely story) while the rest of the band burned through a fiery instrumental. Carbone and guitarist Nick Lee are both personable dudes and had a solid report going with the crowd. Set closer “Offered Blood” starts off with one of the neatest, quirkiest little riffs you’ll ever hear.
Technical difficulties seemed to be a running theme throughout the night, and when Thank You Scientist finally took the stage and rocked the tune “The Somnambulist” from their latest release Stranger Heads Prevail, poor frontman Salvatore Morrano couldn’t hear any vocals through the onstage monitors. So what did this crafty devil do? He made an executive decision to move his mic and stand into the middle of the crowd, and performed the rest of the set from there. What a bloody legend. This also allowed me to get a close look at the Tool tattoo on the back of his neck. I fucking love Tool. Anyway, because of where he stood, he got to dance and joke and laugh with pretty much every member of the crowd. The place wasn’t packed, but the circle around him was tight, and the atmosphere was warm and welcoming. There was one guy who just didn’t get it (Check! Bingo!) and, in a drunken stupor, kept trying to steal the microphone from Morrano and lead the band himself. Morrano in turn gave him props and proclaimed, “Let’s hear it for this guy! It’s his first beer tonight!”
Two solid instrumental jams let the rest of the band’s imposing lineup – which includes Tom Monda on guitar, Cody McCorry on bass, Odin Alvarez on drums, the very metal Ben Karas on the violin, Ellis Jasenovic on the sax, and future Pornhub starboy Andrew Digrius on the trumpet – to show off their impressive chops. At one point Monda rocked out on a banjo, which is so punk rock. A medley which began with Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke” and included the cantina theme from Star Wars Episode IV: The First Star Wars and the X-files theme song elevated the already electric energy to new heights. The medley ended with a Prince tune, but literally nobody cared. All in all, this was a solid night of technique-based music and, despite some unforeseen equipment difficulties, all the bands brought their A-game.
Watch an interview we did with Thank You Scientist below
Written by Syd Ghan
Photography by Danny Donovan
*edited by Kate Erickson