Let's get something straight right off the bat: Mutemath is not a Christian band. Sure, the band members are all lifelong Christians, but the New Orleans-based act sued their label, Warner Music Group, in 2006 for breach of contract and negligent representation when their debut EP Reset was released by Warner's Christian-rock outlet Word Records. While the band may chafe at the constricting "Christian Contemporary" tag, its wild and sweaty show Thursday night at the House of Blues almost immediately took on the fervor and zeal of an old-time Southern revival.
As soon as Mutemath appeared in the audience, banging bass drums and crashing cymbals as they marched toward the stage to begin their set, it was clear that the band planned to put on a show to remember. Thursday night was the first date of the group's new tour in support of its 2011 album, Odd Soul.
Anchored by the rock-solid rhythm section of bassist Roy Mitchell-Cárdenas and drummer Darren King, the band kicked things off with that album's title track, a gospel-inflected stomper that seemed to erase all memory of opening act Canon Blue. It was the first cut of what singer-organist Paul Meany promised would be the entirety of Odd Soul, and if the crowd was disappointed by the ratio of new material to old, it didn't show.
It's easy to see why Warner thought Mutemath would be a good fit for its Christian imprint: A whole lot of soul has been put into these songs. It's not just the sound of Meany's church organ, either. King was a man in constant motion as he bashed away at his kit, laying down beats with an intensity only found in the best Charismatic church bands.
With Mitchell-Cárdenas locked deeply in the pocket, Meany and guitarist Todd Gummerman were free to layer shimmering squalls of sound on top of one another. Singing all the while, Meany switched from organ to keytar to sequencer, even breaking out a bizarre homemade instrument known as the Atari for "Reset" that seemed to cross a toy Paper Jamz guitar with a theremin.
These electronic squibbles immediately recalled Kid A-era Radiohead, but on lush pop songs such as "Control" and "Chaos," the group betrayed its debt to a fellow mainstream band with Christian roots: U2. The Irish quartet's flair for lighting and showmanship has clearly not been lost on Mutemath, either. The band was flanked by an inventive projection screen that displayed shifting 3D graphics, and at one point Meany surfed over the crowd on what appeared to be an air mattress covered in colored LEDs. While singing.
Grandiose guitar pop isn't Mutemath's only influence, of course -- not even its main one. The band displayed truly tasty chops Thursday on instrumental jams reminiscent of the Doobie Brothers. Nothing, however, is as ingrained in the group's eclectic sound as deeply as church music. The sick shuffle on "Blood Pressure" alone nearly had us climbing onstage to testify. When Meany threw up his arms and commanded the crowd to clap along, he could have easily passed for a worship leader from any number of local congregations.
Then again, we've never seen somebody do a handstand on top of an organ at church before. Like we said, Mutemath isn't a Christian band. Technically. But its sound sure as hell isn't 100 percent secular, either. The good news is, these songs jam pretty hard either way.
After an exhilarating opening night, Mutemath's current tour is set to roll across the rest of the country through March. They might even save a few souls along the way.
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Personal Bias: It was hard to keep our eyes off of Darren King. This guy drums with his whole body.
The Crowd: Late-twentysomethings. The kind of female-to-male ratio found in the most socially vibrant youth groups.
Overheard in the Crowd: "There's a real Jesusy vibe to their whole thing. I mean, it's not like they're Jars of Clay -- they're good."
Random Notebook Dump: You know a band is giving its all onstage when the singer sweats through his suit.