You can discern a lot about a band from its pre-concert stage setup. The huge, mounted bass drum awaiting Maps And Atlases on the cozy Studio At Webster Hall stage on Monday night said a few things. In no unclear terms that hulking circle said, “loud percussion ahead.” But for those who read closer, there was another message that even articulate frontman Dave Davison couldn’t have communicated better. It said: “We are Maps And Atlases, and we are about to dance like island lunatics.”
The diehard audience of prog heads would be dancing soon enough, but before the band crowded the low Studio stage with its joyful math-pop there were other shades of rock to be worn. The show began with a brief set from California four-piece Sister Crayon, who layered a loose coil of synths, sequencers, guitar and drums both analog and digital around the dulcet swell of Terra Lopez’s voice. Lopez is a compelling frontwoman. She’s gifted with a voice that vaults above gloomy, glitchy beats like a shadow-cast Amy Lee/Alice Glass hybrid. This was most apparent when she went off mic toward the set’s end, filling the basement venue with a gorgeous, operatic crescendo that got the whole room hooting its approval.
For the first time on this tour Brooklyn trio the Big Sleep opened for Maps And Atlases, strumming up excitement for its recent full-length, Nature Experiments, during the evening’s unlikely jock-prog tangent. The pairing was strange, but not unwelcome: both bands traffic in unpredictable electric riffs. The Big Sleep just plays them louder, slower and oozing with reverb. Songs like “Ace” and “Ghost Bodies” that feature bassist Sonya Balchandani on vocal duty generally proved more effective than those where axeman Danny Barria limited himself to the narrow patch of ground in front of his mic. Barria is clearly more comfortable rollicking up and down the stage, in and out of shadows. The audience responded to that, both the band and select pockets of rockers providing the set’s most primal energy during an extended, riff-bashing rendition to the schizo-frantic “Four Wishes.” Unfamiliar Maps and Atlases acolytes may not have responded with the unanimous headbanging The Big Sleep would’ve earned on a more metal-oriented bill, but the crowd hollering applause at the end of the set.
This was, after all, the room’s elaborate throat warmup for the impending Maplases marathon, which effectively began the first time frontman Davison flopped his Cro-Magnon mane onstage to set his gear up 15 minutes before the show. When Davison and his three longtime bandmates finally began jamming, the room took on a fraternal energy that did not dissipate until well after the encore. Drunken dudes hailed their requests, a collective of women appropriated a spot by the bar as their official dance clinic and half the crowd belted the wordless harmony of Perch Patchwork opener “Will” as soon as the first note was plucked.
Older tracks like the incessantly requested “Living Decorations” received the most love, but Maps And Atlases approached newer tracks from the recent Beware And Be Grateful with just as much mathematical accuracy and rockstar flair. Davison and guitarist Erin Elders finger-tapped plinking, percussive melodies high on their guitar necks while drummer Chris Hainey rattled out rhythms with an intensity that alternated between popcorn and fireworks. Bassist Shiraz Dada was a trained demon on the strings, but his real moment came when he set his instrument aside to pound out the tribal boom of “Charms” against that big, foreboding bass drum in the corner. Dancing was promised. Dancing was had.