One could say that the best concert experiences are those that draw the audience into another world, but some artists tend to go about accomplishing this in more pronounced ways than others. Case and point, British progressive rockers and djent pioneers TesseracT, who have opted to bring their fan base into a new dimension through a literal doorway of auditory nuance in the form of a pre-recorded live performance dubbed Portals, complete with the visual aspects to match the concept. Following what can be best described as an abstract mixture of futurism and modern visual artistry, the set of their adopted location of Lite Up Studios in Fareham, England presented a truly spellbinding combination of spatial usage and elaborate, geometric light shows like the present day answer to a planetarium. It wouldn’t be a stretch to note that while the performance was captured in the quagmire of 2020’s lockdown culture, the visuals alone transcend the present for a loftier future.
The structure of this event, barring a rather cryptic and borderline cinematic introduction of a woman personifying Gaia staring into gateway of ambient light and a handful of interludes recapping a similar visual with poetic phrases popping onto the screen, had the feel and spontaneity of a traditional concert. The featured quintet communicated their progressive blend of light, atmospheric and jazzy elements with a pounding, polyrhythmic battery from the drums, bass and rhythm guitar riffs as if playing to a grand arena situating an audience in the tens of thousands, while the absence of crowd noise was the only element that really betrayed the pre-recorded nature of performance. Each individual member appeared geared to a very specific task, moving about the stage in various levels of animation in accordance to their musical input, with drummer Mike Maylan (standing in for Jay Postones who was absent due to Covid-related concerns) ironically being the most noticeable given the band’s style lending itself to a percussion-centered character, though bassist Amos Williams was a pretty close second.
Despite being an obviously structured undertaking and one that also featured a fair bit of keyboards emanating from outside the band’s core-membership introducing several songs, each individual offering seemed to blend together into one cohesive, 2 hours long excursion into the metaphysical. The gruelingly long first offering in song trilogy “Of Matter” lingered for a solid fourteen minutes, and set the stage for what could be best described as a tight compositional foray with the loose feel of an improvised jam session. The synchronicity between the heavier rhythmic grooves with the spacey clean guitar and keyboard elements on “Juno” and “Phoenix” were particularly potent, with Daniel Tompkins’ dual vocal persona of a crooning pop/rock singer and a hardcore screamer providing an effective middle ground. In truth, while Tompkins was not the most animated performer on stage, his performance was notably dynamic, often recalling the distinctive vocal stylings of Bono and Sting during his cleaner moments, while also making a sizable ruckus where appropriate.
Overall, Portals proved an exercise in sonic precision and consistency, with standout moments largely consisting of offerings that rarely enjoyed a live rendition or were new arrivals to the setting. Entries from their latest album “Sonder” such as “Beneath My Skin”, “Mirror Image” and “Orbital” were sure to have raised a few eyebrows among those expecting a typical set list, though the biggest surprises were “Eden” off their 2011 debut LP “One” (which had not been performed live since the same year) and the premier of “Polaris” deep track “Tourniquet” to the live setting. But while one is often taken by individual parts of a grand structure or even the various parts of a complex machine, this show placed a greater emphasis on the whole, with the surrounding stage setting turning a largely typical concert into a theatrical occasion, and one heavily steeped in technological wonder. It’s elaborate character and otherworldly atmosphere lends heavily to the hypercube analogue denoted in the band’s very name, and may have proved the most trippy occasion ever witnessed by many onlookers without the need of any psychotropic substances.
Of Matter – Proxy / Of Matter – Retrospect / Of Matter – Resist / King / Concealing Fate, Part 1: Acceptance / Concealing Fate, Part 2: Deception / Concealing Fate, Part 3: The Impossible / Tourniquet (Live debut) / Beneath My Skin & Mirror Image (Live debut) / Orbital (Live debut) / Juno / Cages (Live debut) / Dystopia / Phoenix / Of Mind – Nocturne / Eden (First time since 2011) / Of Energy – Singularity (First time since 2014) / Of Energy – Embers (Live debut) / Seven Names