Issues invade Los Angeles’s Mayan Theater with Polyphia, Lil Aaron and Sleep Token
Review by Scott Harmon
Atlanta metalcore rockers, Issues, touring in support of their newest album, Beautiful Oblivion stopped by the 92-year-old Mayan Theater in Los Angeles for a highly anticipated tour stop. The Mayan Theater is a venerable building, known as much for its extraordinary architecture as it is as a music venue. Inspired by the Step Pyramid designs of what is referred to as the Mayan “Terminal Pre-Classic” period, some 2,000 years ago, it is unique among all Southern California concert destinations. The Mayan holds about 1,700 people and this evening’s show was nearly, if not entirely, sold out.
Issues’ stage design was simple, straight forward and functional. Think of Swedish designed furniture that looks uncomfortable but isn’t. Taking the stage, they launched into “Here’s To You” from their most recent album Beautiful Oblivion. Played against an image of a woman’s face being subsumed by malevolent hands while she sheds metallic tears, the band tore into their signature sound of Metal Core mixed with beautiful rock/R&B vocals much to their fans’ delight. That this band is tight is well understood. They bounce from the growling, “unclean” vocals of Metal Core to the pristine singing of Tyler Carter with easy dexterity. This is really a brilliant musical formula as pure Metal Core can often resolve itself into an unintelligible din; relying purely on the emotion of the music to move its mostly young male fans. Issues’ mix of the two explores the universal emotions Metal Core can evoke with the lyricism and melody that makes a song truly memorable. And thus, the crowd here represented a healthy mix of women and men. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have Tyler Carter as the focus of attention.
It’s rare that a group of performers is known as purely a group. It may be human nature that fans expect someone to represent the group, to be the face of the group. And while all the members of the group are excellent musicians and great performers, it is Tyler Carter who stands out. Not only is his singing outstanding, but his stage performance possesses a larger than life quality. Bass player, Skyler Acord, is however a powerful presence on stage as well. It is remarkable how one can move about so frenetically yet maintain the ever-changing groove. Drummer Josh Manuel kept things on schedule playing on a riser just beyond the reach of those sinister hands mentioned above. And finally, guitarist AJ Robollo ably kept things going with his fast and tight rhythm playing that may remind one of Tom Morello’s rhythm playing.
The band played at least five songs from their newest release and they were sure to include such fan favorites as “Stingray Affliction” and “Slow Me Down”. Although the inclusion of turntables and keyboards would have been a welcome addition to some of the songs, this show was nonetheless outstanding. Catch them while you can at these smaller venues because if you wait too long, you’ll be sitting in an arena watching them.
For those who are not in the “know”, Polyphia is not a microorganism visible under a modestly powered student microscope. Rather, it’s a band hailing from Texas comprised of four musicians, Tim Henson and Scott LePage, both on guitars, Clay Gober on bass guitar and Clay Aeschliman on drums. You may have noticed the absence of a vocalist. More on that shortly. They’ve been around since around 2010 but started getting some traction in 2013 with their YouTube video of the song “Impassion” which currently has nearly 3 million views. They have been building their support base by touring throughout the world supporting other bands.
There are numerous descriptions of the band’s music, including their own modest self-assessment as “the greatest metal band in the world . . .” which has managed to marry “a masterful command of melody with hip hop rhythms . . . .” What was on stage at the Mayan Theater was, for lack of a better label, a performance that could be called “Prog-Punk”. Clearly the music is sophisticated, with vibrant and sometimes violently changing rhythms as well as some of the most accomplished sweep picking and tapping around. However, notwithstanding the guitar expertise, the focus is on melody. And, their audiences’ response to this musical mayhem was a beautiful display of the power music has to move people, and in this case, move them physically. Among this mixed crowd of mostly twenty-somethings were apparent young professionals as well as metal fans of different ambitions. Regardless of their career aspirations, everyone was locked in, surrendering to the musical “om” of the moment.
Apparently, early in their career, a music label challenged them to include a vocalist in the band. After auditioning a number of candidates, the band conceded that the effect of adding a vocalist would unalterably change the artistic vision of its members, so they decided that they’d stay the course as an instrumental ensemble. What evolved is a band that has its fans singing its melody lines as if they were lyrics. An impressive feat, no doubt. Polyphia live is not too much different than Polyphia on vinyl, except the rhythm section has a little more punch live and that is largely the driver that wills its fans to dance and thrash about. Of course, if your band has a drummer whose last name is “Aeschliman” you’d expect nothing less; with a name like that he must clearly hail from a family of warriors described in Homer’s “Iliad.”