Fair to Midland / Periphery / Scale the Summit @ the Mod Club, Toronto ON, March 29th 2011

Photo courtesy of http://arrowsandanchors.wordpress.com/

By Natalie Zed

By the time I made my way to the Mod Club on this promisingly warm, almost spring evening, I had missed Pyramid Theorum’s set. Early, weekday shows and full-time employment mean I can’t always get to the venue before the first band play a set, which is a shame, because opening acts have a crucial job, setting the tone for the rest of the night, getting the energy in the room flowing. Since I walked in just as Scale the Summit began to play, it was their music that began the night and set the tone.

Scale the Summit are a Houston, TX-based, progressive, instrumental metal band. I saw them live for the first time when they toured with the Devin Townsend Project, Cynic and Between the Buried and Me, and I’m quite smitten with them. There isn’t enough high quality instrumental metal in the world and Scale the Summit do what they can to fill this void. Their live shows are characterized by an almost earnest, studious type of energy, as each band member focuses on producing their component of the band’s complex, layered sound. At times, they skirt the edges of snootiness, but there’s a trilling sweetness to their music, and their manner, that keeps them endearing.

Providing direct support were Periphery, whom I last saw touring with Veil of Maya and Darkest Hour back in November. Periphery annoy me. Were they merely bad, I could dismiss them, but they are so promising, in some ways. They draw me in only to push me away, begin with an intriguing sound only to drop it. Periphery are borrowers, scavenging what they like from bands like Meshuggah and putting together a composite sound that has moments of greatness and interesting dynamic combinations that inevitably become muddled. There are great ingredients: their singer is passionate and their (many) guitar players are certainly talented. But there is a clarity that they lack, a certainty and deftness absent from their sound. Each time I see them, I want them to keep pushing, become stranger, navigate their way through the material they’re synthesizing and find something new and dangerous. Maybe next time.

Fair to Midland were the one band I hadn’t previously seen live. I’d heard good things about their energetic live shows, and they didn’t disappoint. They were a hair more sedate that I was expecting, though this might have had something to do with the fact that guitarist Cliff Campbell had to have emergency gallbladder removal surgery at the beginning of March, forcing them to reschedule some tour dates. Anyone who can have an organ removed and keep on playing is as tough as a two-dollar steak, in my books. Fair To Midland have a good dose of grooviness mixed into their progressive sound, which adds just enough weight and depth to their songs to keep things interesting. They opened with “Whiskey and Ritalin” and ‘Walls of Jericho,” two strong pieces that clearly demonstrated what all of the fuss was about. Fair To Midland are a band with a lot to give, and when it comes to the live performance, they’re energetic and generous.

I left part of the way through their set — getting up at 5:14 a.m. for boot camp this month has wrecked my show stamina — but not before I heard them play “Dance of the Manatee.” It’s not often that a band manage to be cheerful and spooky all at once, but, with this song, Fair to Midland succeed.

Sean is the founder/publisher of Hellbound.ca; he has also written about metal for Exclaim!, Metal Maniacs, Roadburn, Unrestrained! and Vice.