Protest The Hero
@ Electric Ballroom, London, UK
7th February 2014
Review by Kirsty Birkett-Stubbs
Photos by Graham Hilling
Things are looking pretty technical tonight at the Electric Ballroom. No manuals required though – unless you need a guide to good music. In which case there are worse places to start than prog. And there are definitely worse places to start than Protest The Hero.
“Have they started already? For fuck’s sake”. We’re with you bro. Sure it’s a packed line-up but the doors have barely been cracked opened before Canada’s Intervals (3/5) are on. It makes them seem a bit like the pre-show filler, the entry music rolling out across the foyer.
Which isn’t really fair. You see in the beginning djent-progsters Intervals were purely an instrumental set-up, and therefore trying to get away with ‘all right’ was never an option – if they hadn’t got the technical chops we’d have known before tonight. Change is afoot though with the lads now trying that whole vocals thing using bassist Mike Semesky as a mouthpiece. It’s not a voice that will change a genre but it’s not a bad fit for Intervals’ melodic technicality. Purists will no doubt complain that it takes away from the music, but it may just open Intervals up to a wider audience.
Something that UK-sters The Safety Fire (3.5/5) don’t seem to be lacking now the Ballroom has more feet on the ground. And with a ‘Mouth Of Swords’ the band take the opportunity to put a few things straight. See, weirdly sometimes The Safety Fire feel like they hail from the ‘safe’ side of prog, with an almost metalcore sheen, then they open wide and you catch the gleam of the steel blades of complexity and wonder how this ever felt safe.
Maybe they underestimate the size, or strength, of their fanbase though as with a shout of “Are you ready to catch me?” vocalist Sean McWeeney shakily steps out into the crowd and promptly falls flat. Ready… or not then. They do have two firm fans though, or two people who just wanted to get on stage and found the most accommodating band. Lewis Hill (we’re guessing the spelling) and girlfriend rang in a “first in prog metal”, according to McWeeney, with a slightly timid on-stage marriage proposal.
It got a yes though to the genuine pleasure of the crowd, prompting McWeeney to encourage the newly engageds to crowdsurf off the stage. No. No more terrible crowdsurfing from you lot.
And then amongst cries of “TesseracT” everything changes. This is a different league to what came before. TesseracT (4/5) have a practised majesty that makes you understand why they have headline tours, why people are calling for them even in a support slot, and why they can point the mic at the crowd and actually have them sing along.
TesseracT don’t bring an atmosphere, they physically create one, until in a way you’re not really an active part of things any more; you’re floating above as TesseracT hold you in their thrall. Aside from a first few overly bassy minutes, it’s all a bit lofty and ethereal, with Ashe O’Hara’s high, clear vocals continuing to hold strong.
It’s a short set of long songs, starting with ‘Of Matter’, with the changes so fluid that it’s not always apparent when one song ends and another begins. Although not as physically involving a set, the whole room feels it in a different way when it ends, as an absence of something.
“So how you fucking feeling tonight” comes the first line of ‘Underbite’ and with it Protest The Hero (4.5/5) call out countless other bands ploughing away on other stages, in other venues, on other tours. And the crazed crowd reaction backs that call, strengthening its voice. So listen up kids, listen hard, because it doesn’t get much more authentic than Protest The Hero.
And that’s not only in the case of the music. Protest The Hero are one of those rarer-than-they -should-be bands that are delightfully personable. Cue frontman Rody Walker, the very antithesis of shy and stuttering, launching into a true story from the previous night, “So I’m pretty hungover in a back room at Manchester, and the venue is part of the uni, when this guy comes in and says ‘is this food for the homeless?’ ‘Hey man, I’m not homeless. I live with my parents. But in a house….”
It’s like being with friends. If your friends are extraordinary musicians, who manage to make the hugely complex easily understood, without a shred of pretention. And if that’s the case you’re probably friends with Protest The Hero, so hook us up.
A snippet of The Wizard Of Oz intros ‘Heretics & Killers’, which continues that trick of giving you something to marvel at and go nuts for, and ‘Bury The Hatchet’, which explodes into a closing cacophony of guitars. Protest The Hero just know how things fit together, even if it’s not normal construction. Guess that’s what you get when you know about ten different ways around your instrument, and have been playing together so long. Although newbie sticksman Mike Ieradi is also doing a stand-out job on both the new and old material.
As the band roll into ‘Sex Tapes’ The Safety Fire’s drummer Calvin Smith takes the vocals for a moment before taking a leap into the crowd. Fared better than his singer. Probably because he wasn’t such a pussy about it. And then comes the encore ‘Blindfolds Aside’, where Rody informs us that two-fifths of The Human Abstract are here tonight as he attempts to get them to join in. They wouldn’t. So that was pointless.
But actually it’s preferred. Because this is the last song see, and so you want to spend your last few minutes with Protest The Hero, just Protest The Hero, before those houselights come up. You glance at your watch. It’s all over and it’s not even ten. Before ten! Fuck that. Give us another song. Give us another hour.
If things were right in this world (and they so rarely are) your kids would be using Protest The Hero pencilcases, eating Protest The Hero cereal, and dressing up with beards as opposed to any number of shit boy bands. At least then they might learn some decent values. And something about good music. Because Protest The Hero are phenomenal. That is all.
Heretics & Killers
Bury the Hatchet
C’est la Vie
Tilting Against Windmills