Progressive rock is a niche genre, which in turn means that progressive instrumental rock is even more of a niche. Up until a year ago, I didn’t know that there was still such an aggressive push for it among concert-goers. But again, I’ve been proved wrong. If there’s one thing that I’ve learned about the music industry, it’s that it is astonishingly unpredictable. Up until earlier this year, I would have never believed a band like Polyphia would have the following that they currently have. And yet, I’m happy to see that they do, as the band packed Cornerstone in Berkeley, CA a few weeks back during their “Look But Don’t Touch” North American headlining tour. The show was beyond sold out, and just a few seconds into their live show, it’s clear to see why fans were packing the room (and venues all across the country) to bear witness to this progressive quartet: they’re incredible instrumentalists with an illustrious sense of musicianship
The thing about instrumental music is that you can’t hide behind anything; the lyrics can’t make up for any lost ground with a guitarists’ ability to play a chord or shred a solo; the music itself is front and center. You are forced to be a virtuosos when it comes to your respective instrument (or instruments) and Polyphia are fully aware of this. They nail every lick, riff, chord, and solo with ease, and the crowd reacts with full-scale moshing, crowdsurfing, and applause. At one point, the band bring out two giant inflatables (one cat, one dog) and in an act that would cause a venue owner to watch with gritted teeth and their hands gripping an insurance waiver, allowed fans to crowdsurf from the front to the back of the venue as they performed. It was a zoo of adrenaline, all caused by four guys playing a unique brand of instrumental art rock.
While the band have a new album out, 2018’s New Levels New Devils, a majority of material that comprised the set came from the band’s highly acclaimed 2017 EP, The Most Hated. In fact, they actually interspersed every song from the EP throughout their set, while throwing in a heap of tracks from all three full-length albums. Every song played over well, yet the tracks from The Most Hated seemed to get the most out of the crowd.
Opening the show was Tides of Man, another instrumental rock act (keeping with the theme of the show, of course) that has nailed their musicianship. They’ve been around far longer than our headliners, and their thirty-minute set was the perfect set up for what people could expect throughout the evening. Immaculate musicianship is interlaced throughout every Tides of Man song, and they set the tone of this show perfectly.
A Bay Area homecoming was in order for San Francisco’s I The Mighty, who provided main support for the evening. It really doesn’t matter what position you put I The Mighty in on the lineup; whether they’re the first act up as doors are opening or they’re closing the evening with an hour and a half headlining slot, they will steal the show. The Bay Area was out in full support for the San Francisco four-piece, as they powered through song after song from their eminently renowned discography. It’s a given that they’ll be back here soon, and when they do, they’ll be met with the same ecstatic reaction that they were on this evening.
Polyphia have provided fans with a tour that is dynamic and powerful, one that showcases that these unique, individualistic genres still have homes and are still thriving beyond all measure. The “Look But Don’t Touch” tour provided fans with an evening that was drenched in talent and inundated with electrifying musicianship. It’s unmistakable that things will become bigger for them as time goes on.