The only way to ensure you get the gift you truly want is to buy it yourself, right? Well, for my birthday, I decided to treat myself to catching THE CONTORTIONIST on their Reimagined Tour. It’d been more than a year since my last concert and about four years since the last time I saw the group, so I figured I was more than a bit overdue. Plus, when I heard that they would be doing two sets per show, one full electric, followed by a stripped down acoustic set, I knew I couldn’t resist.
I had been to The Fillmore a few times, but never to the upstairs section, The Foundry. It was surprisingly great! I’ve been to many a show set on the side stage of a larger venue, and it’s typically the piss-soaked basement where they hide the bands they didn’t want to book. However, the setting there was clean, intimate and felt more akin to a local show; even the people were nicer than most of the shows I’ve attended in the past.
As I arrived, show opener INTERVALS was already a few songs into their set. As irony would have it, the last time I saw them was at the aforementioned show from four years ago. At that time, they were still touring with vocalist Mike Semesky, and were very much a full band. In recent years, the moniker has simply been a pseudonym for guitarist Aaron Marshall as a solo act. I have to admit that I haven’t listened to any material released after A Voice Within because I was so mad at the choice to revert back to instrumental. Don’t get me wrong, I love instrumental groups as much as the next guy. But I thoroughly enjoyed how well Semesky’s vocals enhanced their music.
But I digress; and I can say that seeing things from the instrumental perspective was quite interesting! The set was primarily material from the last two records, of which I was not familiar. So it was like seeing a band I really didn’t know. The songs were intricate, with tight grooves and catchy melodies. And while I missed hearing songs like “Ephemeral” and “Atlas Hour”, Aaron and his backing band did close their set with “Mata Hari”, which was a personal favorite from their earlier time as an instrumental band.
The atmosphere was electric waiting for THE CONTORTIONIST to start their set; and like any good group would they made us wait… through the entirety of “I Will Always Love You” by WHITNEY HOUSTON. It made the entire crowd laugh at first, but by the end, all in the building sang along with the crescendo of the final chorus. And then it was time for what we had all come to see. The set began with “Language I: Intuition”, “Reimagined”, and “Godspeed”. Mike Lessard’s vocals poured into our ears and overcame every soul in the building. Between songs, the frontman would sings bits of each song as a foreshadowing of things to come.
A few tunes in, they took it back to their debut, playing two tracks from Exoplanet. “Primal Directive” was fierce and visceral. It was followed by “Flourish”, during which Mike asked for lighters to be waved throughout the melodic bridge of the song. In a remarkable turn, they fed the song’s outro right into the ending section of “Ebb and Flow” from Language, as almost a way of marrying the past with the more recent. From there, we heard incredibly rich renditions of “Clairvoyant”, “Return to Earth”, and “Integration”. They bookended their first set with “Language II: Conspire”.
After taking a short break, the sextet returned to the stage, acoustic guitars in hand and delivered a harrowingly beautiful performance of “The Source”. Mike took the time to explain the meaning behind their last two albums; disclosing that both were dedicated to a friend who had overdosed after losing their mother to cancer. This lead to a version of “The Parable” that could have moved mountains. To shake things up a bit, the group decided to throw a cover into the second set. While trying to elude to their chosen song, they played the first 30 seconds of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” to throw everyone off. However, it was a different 90’s band that earned the nod: THE SMASHING PUMPKINS. Reasoning to the song’s themes of lost youth, they launched into an incredible version of “1979”.
To close the show, they returned to their full electric getup, playing one of my favorite Clairvoyant tunes, “The Center”. The song’s open and airy feel was met by the sound of dozens of voices singing along, with each person in attendance metaphorically telling their own story of how the song had impacted them. They ended the night with “Monochrome: Pensive”, a song their singer said was written as a direct conversation to the friend he had lost prior to the writing of Language. It was gorgeous and cathartic and filled me with as much aching as it did hope and inspiration.
Overall, it was an amazing gift to treat myself to a concert, as I had been deprived of live music for so long. But the true gift was being able to witness such a stunningly gripping performance. And for that, I owe a huge thanks to THE CONTORTIONIST. At the time of this writing there were only a few dates left on the tour; so if you didn’t go you missed out. You need to see this group live. Thank me later.
LIVE IMAGES: MEGAN C. BROOKS PHOTOGRAPHY
LIVE WORDS: FRENCH CHEESE