Meshuggah, Live at Slim’s 29 Apr 2003

Good musicians always sound even better live than they do in studio recordings, and Meshuggah are no exception.

They played a good mix of their old and new material, inlcuding “Future Breed Machine” (of course) and “Soul Burn” from Destroy, Erase, Improve, “Sickening” from None (my favorite of their studio recordings) and “New Millenium Cyanide Christ” from Chaosphere. Most of the show was made up of songs from their latest album Nothing, obviously. Highlights were “Stengah”, “Perpetual Black Second” and “Closed Eye Visual”. The songs from this album are much funkier live, and even more effective.

There is a risk of “Future Breed Machine” becoming a bit of a cliché. It’s a great song, and people expect to hear it. But Meshuggah’s earlier material is full of gems like “Sublevels” and “Gods of Rapture” that I have never heard them play live.

Meshuggah had the best live sound for a metal band that I’ve ever heard. There are no stacks of speaker cabinets on the stage; instead, the guitars and bass are fed directly from racks full of amplifiers and sound modelers into the house PA. The result was clear and very heavy. It also helps that the Nothing songs were played on 8-string guitars whose scale lengths are more appropriate for the extremely low tunings used. Even the old 7-string material had improved clarity.

As always, drummer Tomas Haake and guitarists Mårten Hagstrom and Fredrik Thordendal delivered the complex polyrhythms and syncopations of Meshuggah music with facile aplomb. Unfortunately, Thordendal’s melodies were sometimes unfocused.

Then there is the bass situation. The guitars for Nothing are tuned so low they are well within the normal range of a bass, and so bass is not needed a lot of the time. Bassist Gustav Hielm only appeared on stage for some of the new songs. He was present for all the old songs, and kicked ass. His sound was clear and strong, also a rarity in metal. More metal bassists should follow his lead here.

The venue, Slim’s on 11th St in San Francisco, has good sound and is just the right size for a Meshuggah show. Unfortunately, their Guinness is from cans, not tap.