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Concert Report: Maps & Atlases @ The Middle East

Maps & Atlases // The Middle East // 5-18-12

The Middle East was consumed this weekend with a boisterous crowd who showed up in support of Chicago indie-rock outfit  Maps & Atlases. Throughout the evening, fists were raised to the ceiling as the band steamrolled through an engaging hour-and-a-half set of splintering math-rock and eerie psychedelic folk. The majority of the material played was a combination of tunes from their full-lengths Beware and Be Grateful and Perch Patchwork. Guitarist/vocalist Dave Davidson crooned in a nasal baritone while the band juggled strange time signatures, rapid rhythms, and mind-boggling tempo changes with their instruments.

The band opened their set with a percussion-heavy number that garnered immediate shouts of cheer from the crowd. Guitarist Erin Elders’ proficient finger-tapping skills collided with drummer Chris Hainey’s  manic shifts between drum kit and glockenspiel to dizzying effect. Beats changed at a moments notice. Melodies coiled around themselves. The pure intensity of the sound exposed their “math-rock” genetic code.

 While weird time signatures and impressive guitar work are impressive, technical proficiency alone can distance the musician from the audience. Fortunately, Maps & Atlases had a few tricks up their sleeve. The band proved to have an excellent pop sensibility.  By recognizing what’s pleasing to the ear, Maps & Atlases submerged their complex riffs under rich hooks and melodies.  This was best shown on evening highlight “The Charm”, featuring bassist Shiraz Dada at the helm of an enormous kick drum. With militaristic precision, Dada pounded his thunderous drum as the song slowly gained momentum. Davidson’s aquatic guitar swirled upwards while Hainey’s anxious snare taps bubbled beneath the surface. Davidson provided a fragile yet commanding voice to complete the hypnotic world of the song. The crowd pumped their fists in unison as “The Charm” crawled towards its completion.

Other numbers, such as “Solid Ground” and “Witch” showcased the diversity of Maps & Atlases’ sound. The former’s clattering noise had the crowd dancing the night away while “Witch” elicited the calm of a church service. The band shifted between bouncy indie-pop and fiery rockers with ease.  It was a pleasure to bask in the twists and turns. Maps & Atlases closed the evening with one of their best tracks -  a smoldering rock song that despite its length, seemed to pass by in mere seconds.

The Middle East proved to be an ideal venue for Maps & Atlases’ controlled chaos. Despite some technical difficulties with the guitar microphones, the band executed its thunderous sound with perfection. The approval of the crowd echoed in every corner of the room. Maps & Atlases’ professional showmanship and obvious musical ability made for an interesting, and more importantly, fun show.

- Tim May

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