When I first started writing about music, stomach stomach I kept hearing artists described as “math rock.” I honestly had no idea what it meant, but the term “mathy” was used to describe some of my favorite new bands. I shrugged it off and pretended I knew what I was talking about. I’m still not sure if I fully comprehend the idea of math rock, but after seeing A Minor Forest Tuesday night at Great Scott with Grass is Green and Pretty & Nice, I had an epiphany. Math rock is actually pretty nerdy like I thought, but not in the black rimmed glasses and calculator in pocket at all times way. It’s the music that music nerds love. I entered Great Scott unsurprisingly seeing all of the music nerds in the Boston scene had convened for this show, which would be the best show I will have seen all May.
Grass is Green were the first Boston band I fell in love with when I started up with Allston Pudding three years ago. Their 2010 album Yeddo still resonates within me every time I see them play. It’s our idea of a classic album. Michael John Thomas III has returned to the East Coast and reunited for good with his fellow Grass is Green band members. The band played an exciting and tight set hammering through a lot of stand out tracks from their recent release Vacation Vinny. Each member of the band holds its own creating a dichotomy of caustic clashes and melodic twinkles, all held together thanks to the drumming of Jesse Weiss. He will show you how fast he can drum, but his skills truly shine in the slow breakdowns. Jesse, Andy, MJT3, and Devin have a way of communicating with one another on stage through only the changes in tempo of their songs and sometimes the changes of their instruments. During A Minor Forest’s set, I heard a lot of comparisons to the two bands in tone and execution of these tempo changes. It was a great pair to share a stage at Great Scott that night.
Second up was Pretty & Nice, who like Grass is Green, is a pioneer in our small but community-driven Boston music scene. These guys take that mathy chaos but boil it down into perfect pop songs. The scratchy, loud guitars are there but for dancing your ass off (which most of the audience did) instead of head banging (still a little of that too though obviously). This was my first time seeing P&N in 2014, and it had been very long since I’d seen the band as a four-piece. They started up with an oldie and continued with some of the real bangers off of 2013’s Golden Rules for Golden People. At one point, Holden Lewis threw a tambourine from the stage, striking me in the arm before it landed into the hands of an audience member who helped keep the beat along. It is a bruise that will be cherished for longer than it will last.
A Minor Forest not only took the stage at the end of the night but also customized it for themselves. They stationed their drummer Andee Connors in the front middle of the stage facing away from the audience. The guitarist and bassist anchored themselves on the side, forming an equilateral triangle. This math rock thing really is for nerds. It started off in a weird place, because a drumstick hit Erik Hoversten, the guitarist, square in the face during the first song. He seemed okay with it though and kept rocking along. It was a great way to end the evening, because the music was angular but relaxing in a way. The heavy drums kept a tight melody, and the instrumental nature of the songs were luring me to a happy daze. The songs were beautiful yet powerful; delicate yet dark; stormy yet bright. It was a spectacle unlike any performance I had ever seen before. It would crash; it would burn at a level so bright that it could rebuild itself over and over again.
The last song perfectly encapsulated the whole performance with a tightly-communicated jam with Andee setting the timing on drums and Erik and John (bass) would know exactly what notes to play and at what time. I can’t imagine any other band having the kind of intuition those three have after playing together for so many years. I was giddy in the nerdiest way. This was my math rock awakening.