The evening was ripe with promise as I strolled into Club Metronome, with notebook and pen in hand, and positioned myself discreetly on the club's beautifully refurbished floor to catch tri-state trio The Mathematicians. I'd been hearing great things about the band over the past couple of years, and hoped they were true.
The opening band, Prizzy Prizzy Please, hail from Bloomington, Indiana - a fact they repeatedly mentioned with pride. As part of a 22-date tour, they were in the middle of a trio of shows with The Mathematicians.
I was initially underwhelmed with what seemed to be a fairly straightforward pop-punk sound. But the band's versatility was revealed as the set progressed, and eventually won me over with an infectious, ocean-themed pop ditty called "Captain Bob."
Throughout the high-energy set, people happily danced along. When the quirky quartet - pseudonyms include Butts Manly, Wolf America, Jizzy Gillespie and Jonifer Maniston - slowed things down with a faux-Prince ballad, pairs formed and swayed like it was a high-school semiformal. I suspect the singer's immaculate falsetto seduced them.
The transcendent moment of PPP's set was, without question, a passionate cover of AC/DC's "Thunderstruck." The keyboard player's ability to mimic Angus Young's guitar playing was eerily spot-on. I was blown away.
By the time Prizzy Prizzy Please wound down, the bar was crowded, and as The Mathematicians took the stage, the audience was poised and attentive.
The cheeky trio consists of Albert Gorithm IV (drums), Dewi Decimal (keys and vocodor) and bassist Pete Pythagoras. All three members perform vocal duties. The band also makes good use of a sampler, which provides electronic drum and soundscape accompaniment.
Whereas Prizzy Prizzy Please are essentially a rock band, The Mathematicians have a broader sound rooted in an electro/dance sensibility. There are rock elements, to be sure, and a few songs followed conventional rock structures. But those moments are part of a richer tapestry.
Introducing their second song, Dewi Decimal held up a framed picture of a noted Burlington musician. "Does anyone know this guy?" he asked. "Last time we were in town he warned us that hip-hop was luring white women away from rock 'n' roll in Burlington," he continued, clearly finding this bizarre sentiment hilarious. Putting the picture aside, the band launched into a hip-hop jam I found livelier and more vital than some of the phoned-in performances I've seen from established acts in the genre.
Later, PPP's saxophone player joined the band onstage. Every time he pulled the instrument away from his mouth, he sang along word-for-word. Amused, I turned to point it out to a friend only to notice that, everywhere I looked, people were dancing and singing along, word-for-word. I felt like I'd shown up to a party that had been going on for quite some time. I was impressed.
Contemplating the show now, I find my impression of it shaped by the rapturous enthusiasm the audience displayed. It's hard to imagine how I would have perceived the band's set had I experienced it with a stoic handful rather than a wealth of good-natured hipsters having a great time. Ultimately, it doesn't matter. The show was a blast.
I had a chat with The Mathematicians after their set. Charged from their performance, they were witty and scatological, not unlike their music. I mentioned some angry letters I'd heard their last write-up had inspired, nearly a year ago, following a Magic Hat Block Party performance on Church Street during jazz fest. Collectively, their eyes widened.
"We'd love to read the hate mail," enthused an amused Dewi. "We're interested in any love mail you have, too."
I can't say there was any thrust to the conversation, or any particularly salient points. They are not Scientologists. Albert, the drummer, made entertaining historical references. We briefly discussed D.C. punk legends Bad Brains. "Who's the H.R. of the group?" I asked, referring to that band's eccentric singer.
"You mean which one of us is going to go crazy?" clarified Pete, the bassist.
"Sure," I replied, just trying to keep up.
"All of us will go insane together," Albert offered, laughing. The rest of the band joined in, suggesting not madness but camaraderie.
The Mathematicians return to Vermont on Thursday, June 19, at Langdon Street Café in Montpelier.