Live Reviews : Periphery, Polaris & Circles @ The Metro Theatre, Sydney 03/02/2017
Words: Rod Whitfield
Photos: Jess Miller
It is a tropical night in Sydney, the heat and humidity are high and the crowd lined up along the side of the Metro and almost all the way up the alleyway to the next block is a little restless. Inside it is a little cooler, but the temperature in the room rises again as Melbourne’s mighty sons of modern prog rock and metal Circles take the stage.
Being from the same city as Circles, up for this show and for seeing the Sydney’s most iconic building become the Sydney Opethra House on the Monday night, I had never been to the Metro before. It’s a great venue for a show like this. The room is big and open, however, this makes for a slightly big, messy sound for the opening band and the insanely skilful guitar playing of Ted Furuhashi and Ben Rechter is slightly lost in the wash. The powerhouse melodic tunes and high energy levels of the band overcome this though, and they win the crowd over, putting on a majestic set.
Circles make the gutsy move of playing a brand new tune three songs in. It’s an interesting track, and possibly indicative of the new direction they are taking with their sophomore album, opening as a pounding stomper, before tribal rhythms and slightly discordant finger-tapping wizardry kicks in, revealing their more experimental side. Another new track follows, their latest single Sand and Wind, which is also pleasantly dissonant, and then it is wall to wall Circles classics through to the end of their whirlwind opening set.
Polaris veritably explode onto the stage in front of their adoring home-town crowd, looking like they are absolutely at home on the big stage before more than a thousand people. Their brand of fiery, fired-up metalcore seems to belong in the bigger room. Frontman Jamie Hails gives an over the top performance, his physicality and unbridled enthusiasm, and his dynamic vocal delivery which shifts seamlessly from high-end metalcore screeches to sweet cleans and even occasionally to death metal growls, thrilling the packed-out crowd. Only adding to the vocal dynamism is bassist Jake Steinhauser, who injects his tasteful cleans with aplomb.
Their songs are short and punchy, which makes for a very impactful set, right through to the powerhouse closer which gets a serious circle-pit mosh happening. The two Aussie openers have warmed the crowd beautifully for the main act on this humid night.
And when the main act comes, it comes with cataclysmic might.
Just a couple of observations about Periphery’s set before I wax lyrical about one of my favourite bands on the planet. The band come out with their customary three guitars, but no bass. Whether that means they feel there’s enough heft and bottom end in the three seven/eight strings I’m not sure. Secondly, Matt Halpern is playing with rack toms on his kit for what I think is the first time I’ve seen him do this. Thirdly, and correct me if I’m wrong, if I have made a mistake as their raucous one hour twenty minute set flashes by in a whirlwind, their set consists entirely of tracks from their second album Periphery II: This Time it’s Personal, and most recent record Select Difficulty, with virtually nothing from the debut or the mighty double release concept albums of 2015 Juggernaut: Alpha and Omega. This is the only real disappointment of their set.
Of course, they are the type of band with whom, no matter what songs they put into their setlist, the set itself would still be killer. And it is. This what modern progressive heavy music is all about. In fact, if this band keeps going for another 10 years and releases another three or so album of a similar quality to what they have put out so far (and there is no reason to think otherwise), they will start to build an aura around themselves similar to what surrounds the likes of Rush and Dream Theater, ie. that of a progressive band whose musicianship is of a truly illustrious standard but it’s still the quality of the songs that stands out. Their songs have that jubilant anthemic quality to them that is only supported by the monstrous instrumental and vocal dexterity possessed by individual members. Magnificent closer Lune is a case in point.
And whilst on individual members, a word on a couple of Periphery members. Obviously they are a guitar based and a guitar obsessed band, so the three guys on string duty are true masters of their craft. Skinsman Halpern is a study in contrasts, in that what flows off the drum riser is crushing, nuclear-strength percussive power and might, and yet he is a picture of almost serene relaxation and fluidity. And then there’s frontman Spencer Sotelo, resplendent in his Sikth t-shirt, who has copped some flack for his performance over the years. Well, I believe this to be whining, overly-negative nonsense. He is a nuggety, pint-sized behemoth on the vocals who performs and entertains like a madman. It seems he’s used the trolling of the keyboard cowboys as the fire of motivation to fuel his performance.
And another one of the beauties of it is that, unlike the pristine perfection of a band like Tesseract (which I love as well), the Periphery live set is joyously just a little rough around the edges, making it obvious that, while these guys are prodigiously talented and there is some subtle enhancement of the (especially vocal) performance via backing tracks, it is essentially five guys on stage playing the music 99.9% live, and that is a wonderful thing.
This was a sweaty, sultry night of world-class progressive heavy music.