Review: Polyphia – SWG3, Glasgow

I’m relatively new to Polyphia having only discovered them last year but was so blown away by what I heard that I had to include 2022’s ‘Remember You Will Die’ in my best albums of the year review. When I heard they were coming to Glasgow I had to see them in the flesh. Did I make a terrible mistake? All will be revealed in time.

I arrive once again at SWG3 having only been here a couple of months ago for the first time. However, this time I am in the larger of the venues in this converted industrial space. Why the larger room? Polyphia were meant to be playing The Garage (a far smaller venue for those of you who have never sampled the wonders of Glasgow) but due to overwhelming demand to see this band they had to move it to a bigger venue and it still sold out!

Opening for Polyphia is two violinists? They sit at the side of the stage in masks tuning up as the real support appears onstage. His name is Johan Lenox. Nope, I’d never heard of him either. A classically trained (hence the violins) hip-hop artist from Lenox, MA. Accompanied by today’s answer to a DJ also shrouded behind a mask much like an executioner to hide his shame at his profession. This poor chap’s job is to press play on the laptop. I wasn’t sure how I would feel about this. The production of the backing tracks was great but kinda made the violins feel a bit redundant. It is later explained that they are two local musicians that Lennox asked to join him onstage to perform the score he had written. Okay, respect slowly building. He also performs two songs on keys, displaying his classical skills. Musically it’s Trap with strings with Lenox looking like a hip-hop Kurt Cobain. A comparison that not only ends with appearance as I just discovered he has covered Nirvana’s ‘Dumb’.

During ‘Don’t Wait For Me’ Johan makes a speech about not letting people’s negativity stop you from trying something. “You only get one shot, One life! Fucking do it, I’m doing what I wanna do. If you have a song, write the song, if you wanna paint, paint the painting. You wanna overthrow the monarchy, Fuckin do it!” That last remark gets a big cheer! Lenox then follows this up with a thirteen-minute-long classical piece to end the set. Well played Lenox, You won me over!

During the changeover one of the roadies sound checks the sole mic needed for Polyphia by bellowing “Keith” into it. This naturally causes the crowd to start chanting “Keith” whenever he returns to the stage for other checks. Prompting Polyphia to dedicate two songs to “Keith” later on much to rapturous applause.

So, onto Polyphia. The band strides onstage to huge cheers but the appearance of baby-faced walking inkpad Tim Henson sends the audience into a fever pitch. Kicking off with ‘Genesis’, the opening track from the latest release, the band rattles off a 16-song set with incredible dexterity. Not a single note missed from the complex guitar parts handled by Henson and his guitar counterpart Scott Le Page. The pair playing impeccable tight melodies and rhythms that solidify why they are the new wave of guitar heroes. Speaking of tight rhythm playing, the two Clay’s (Gober on bass and Aeschliman on drums) are outstanding at keeping everything together. Aeschliman playing some tasty fills that never dominate the sound. There is a small drum break rather than a full-on solo later in the show for him to stretch out a bit more. Le Page takes to the mic for ‘Goose’ to instruct the crowd to crowd surf. A few bodies soon appear over the masses but Henson stops the song as he is dissatisfied with how few are surfing. Scott demands at least another ten crowd surfers before the song is restarted and his demands are quickly met.

Polyphia play a game of sing the riff with Le Page playing the start of a riff and the audience singing the remainder. This continues through ‘Champagne’ with vigour. Henson once again stops the show during ‘Reverie’, again displeased with the lack of enthusiasm from the crowd. When it is revealed they are filming their new music video for the song in this very venue the fans go crazy.

Now, here’s my problem. As complex and intricate as Polyphia’s music is, without a singer, the songs do tend to become a tad samey. After the first few songs, I felt I had seen the whole gig. No disrespect to the boys, they are some of the most talented new players I’ve heard in recent years. It is, however, a welcome relief when they break out the acoustic guitars for the absolute belter ‘Playing God’. There’s time for a few encores including a surprise cover of CKY’s ’96 Quite Bitter Beings’ with Scott on vocals sandwiched between ‘G.O.A.T. and ‘Euphoria’.

It’s quite possibly the shortest headlining set I’ve seen. Clocking in at an hour and ten minutes. Good news for me, home and in bed by 11 pm.

Polyphia are currently on tour in Europe and return to the UK for a date in London on May 31st, all dates can be found here.

Review – Colin Plumb

Photo credit – Travis Shinn

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