Maps & Atlases @ The Middle East Upstairs 8.11.10

by Madi Daigle (Music), published September 2nd 2010

The day of the Maps & Atlases show at the Middle East Upstairs I had about six people ask me what I was doing that night (yeah, I’m that popular). I told them that I was going to see Maps & Atlases ‘€“ their immediate reaction, “Oh cool, what do they sound like?” And the only response I could come up with is, “math rock”. Whatever that means. I’ve heard the term thrown around before, but never really understood it ‘€“ until that night.

Upon arriving at the Middle East with my entourage (I travel at least two deep at all times) we met up with lead-singer and overall nicest guy ever Dave Davison. He immediately greeted us with an impressively bearded smile and we sat down with him and guitarist Erin Elders for some tofu kebabs and stimulating conversation about the social implications of Tolstoy’s War and Peace (jk guys, we talked about tour and restaurants and stuff).

The band then graciously let photog extraordinaire Katie Price take some portraits while Davison grabbed his guitar and drummer Chris Hainey accompanied us to a graffitied alleyway where Davison treated us and a few onlookers to an intimate acoustic performance of Cast Spells’ song “Potted Plant” and Maps & Atlases’ “Artichoke” and “Carrying the Wet Wood”.

We got there in time to see Cults open the show, just missing Laura Stevenson and the Cans. Cults gave a lackluster performance that sounded like She & Him gone awry. At one point the lead-singer, in between her awkward dance moves, scolded the front row for being too loud. Granted the sound sucked and the crowd was anything but receptive, but the last time I checked this was a rock concert, not a classroom.

When Maps & Atlases took the stage the energy in the room completely changed. Throughout their set the crowd was totally into it. People were dancing along to the complicated beats and there were more than a few fans in the crowd who knew every single one of Davison’s intricate and fantastical lyrics. The room was packed and there seemed to be minimal hipsters in attendance, with the majority of the crowd being nerdy kids geeking out over the band’s polyrhythms and frenzied, badass musical chops. Just watching Hainey on the drums and Shiraz Dada on the bass navigate the changing meters boggled my mind. Davison and Elders complimented each other perfectly on the guitar, all together creating a carefully calculated chaos ‘€“ and all of a sudden it clicked. I was listening to the elusive “math rock”.

After about an hour of thoroughly melting the faces of everyone in the crowd the band hesitatingly announced their last song to yells of disapproval. That wasn’t the end though, much to the delight of the audience Dave announced that the band was keen to keep playing and that they’d be setting up outside the venue. As we left people were already lining up outside getting ready to have their intimate moment with Maps & Atlases. With the release of their first full length album Perch Patchwork on Barsuk Records in June and two older EP’s (You and Me and the Mountain (2008) and Tree, Swallows, Houses (2006)) they’ve got enough material to play long into the night.

With songs as ornate and complicated as theirs it takes real musical chemistry and talent to perform with accuracy and precision, and Maps & Atlases did just that.  The combination of Davison’s powerful, effortless and unique voice with the pure musical talent of his backing band had the crowd at hello.

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