Clutching the microphone cable as he flailed the mic around in front of a packed Mod Club crowd, Antemasque frontman Cedric Bixler-Zavala looked as if he'd grabbed onto a live hydro wire, his body jolting in time to the jagged rhythms of the band's high-energy post-punk. Alongside the powerfully fluid drumming of fellow former Mars Volta member Dave Elitch and the spiky riffs of longtime musical partner Omar Rodriguez-López, Bixler-Zavala's own intensity elevated Antemasque to a stadium-worthy powerhouse that transcended the occasional shortcomings of the band's brief Toronto debut.
Antemasque is, after all, a band built for live shows. That might be obvious to anyone familiar with founding members Rodriquez-López and Bixler-Zavala's previous groups At the Drive-In and the Mars Volta; in the late '90s ATDI blazed their way into indie-rock lore with highly combustible performances, while Mars Volta spent the past decade expanding their already complex prog-rock epics into free flowing psychedelic jams. On their debut album, Antemasque filter all that musical history into a stripped-down, oft-cliched and slightly underwhelming return to their punk rock roots, but on stage, the songs serve as a launching pad for the players' respective acrobatic virtuosity, a more direct conduit for the amped-up performance audiences have come to expect from these musicians.
Indeed, Antemasque ripped through the first four bangers — "In the Lurch," "Momento Mori," "4AM" and "I Got No Remorse" — top-loading the set with their best tunes, all of which sounded even better in person. Lesser fare like the uneven new track "Domino Rain" and the lyrical cringe-fest "Ride Like the Devil's Son" — the latter of which wouldn't sound out of place as the theme song for Sons of Anarchy — benefitted from the punchy live mix and occasional audience shout-alongs. It didn't hurt that the crowd was already good and primed from the explosive opening set by Mexican garage punkers Le Butcherettes, whose singer/guitarist Teri Gender Bender commanded the stage with flailing hair, thrashy chords and an extended mid-song meditation on the 43 students recently killed in Mexico.
Oddly enough, both the highlight and the nadir of Antemasque's set occurred in the same song — which is easier to understand when you consider that the tune in question clocked in at around 15 minutes. Admittedly, "Providence" started out strong, with Rodriguez-Lopez stretching out the guitar solo section with flurries of notes that snowballed into some full on shredding. From there, however, the band churned on in a seemingly endless jam that provided little drama and rarely introduced any new ideas to the song. Clearly, this band is capable of taking any tune on an epic sonic journey; it's just a shame that this one seemed to lack any particular destination.
Antemasque brought the crowd back with "People Forget," an entirely fitting set closer. For a band whose core members have endured a turbulent career in which interpersonal dramas sometimes overshadowed their musical abilities, the song's declarative chorus served as a perfect mantra for the experience of an Antemasque show: "People tend to forget/ And I just want to remind you."
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