Words and Photos by Masen Smith
Polyphia’s Look But Don’t Touch Tour blazed through Richmond, VA earlier this month. Jokingly touting themselves as “Not only the biggest but also the best metal band in the world,” the Austin, TX-based four-piece packed the Broadberry for a performance that was anything but tongue in cheek. Fresh off the release of the tour’s eponymous single, Polyphia continues to be unpredictable- From crazy pinch harmonic-laden riffs to smooth, jazzy syncopation and everywhere in between. All of this leads to Polyphia’s uniquely electric atmosphere, palpable from the first note of the opening track, “G.O.A.T.”
G.O.A.T. begins with an ominous, spacious chime intro before launching into a dark, funk-infused lead riff. Bassist Clay Gober, assumed frontman duties early and often, driving crowd interaction to a raucous response. Each drop and groove incited the mosh pit to grow bigger and bigger- an unusual sight at an instrumental gig. Snappy, clean transitions made the flow into the second track, OD, feel like a fluid continuation without losing an ounce of momentum. Gober was the true showman of the night- flanked by the two riff machines Tim Henson and Scottie LePage; he whipped the crowd into a frenzy with bombastic stage presence and the occasional cheeky aside. The night tore on with tracks spanning the entire Polyphia discography, heavily focusing on the hip-hop influenced EP The Most Hated (2017). Crowdsurfers flowed to the stage all night, a continually hectic and lively experience. In addition to playing TMH in full, the arrogantly groovy madness was accentuated with delicious leads- few better than that of Champagne. Over the years, the biggest joy of Polyphia’s evolution has been their effortless execution of whatever varied styles they choose to explore.
In years past, one fan-favorite track had been noticeably absent from their live rotation. “Nightmare,” an 8-string behemoth of a song, was seen as too huge an undertaking to perfect for the stage. This tour, though, brought the live debut of “Nightmare” – and man, it did not disappoint. Intricate tapping patterns interlaced with Clay Aeschliman’s polyrhythmic drumming made for a track that, at least for me, is one of the most memorable compositions of Polyphia’s career. The fact that “Nightmare” was perfected for live performance truly shows how much each member has grown. Going from calling the track “impossible” to near perfect execution in under a year shows the band’s incredible potential, and mixing that with an ever-improving live show makes Polyph tough to beat in today’s instrumental music scene.
The finale, though, put the genius of Tim Henson on full display. “Finale” and “Euphoria” feature two of the smoothest hooks of Polyphia’s entire discography. The whole crowd belted the choruses, which is expected for a band with a vocalist, but for an instrumental band, it’s a rare sight. It was equal parts strange and wonderful to see a crowd so connected to a wordless melody (If you don’t know those two tracks, links are below. The hooks are really THAT contagious). The power and stage presence of the set’s conclusion, coupled with the sheer musicianship and versatility showcased the entire night, proved why Polyphia’s ceiling is limitless.
Don’t sleep on these guys. They’re only going to get bigger and better from here.