Where: The Fleece, Bristol
Yvette Young opens the night. The San Jose based guitarist usually performs as the face of math-rock band Covet but tonight all focus is on her. She is an exceptionally talented musician and songwriter, but the crowd response is far from perfect. Her songs are delicate and built for close listening; with intricate riffs and tapped melodies that weave together to form tracks of epic proportion. However, the crowded audience of the Fleece forms a blanket of noise that really impacts her acoustic performance. Ideally, listen to her with headphones, or if you’re lucky enough to catch her as a headliner.
It feels like an exceptionally long time since CHON have performed in the UK. With the release of their second studio album Homey, it feels like the perfect time for the San Diego math-rock outfit to grace us with their sun soaked instrumentals. Since the majority of their songs are instrumental based, we were apprehensive as to how to approach the night, since you’d think an abundance of solos and technical guitar work would get a little boring. But we couldn’t be more wrong! Although firmly in the math-rock genre, the free-form approach to songwriting that CHON has leads to their shows becoming a somewhat jazz-inspired jam session with prog-flavoured guitar riffs adding texture to some mind blowing fretwork.
The set opens with the opening track from Homey, ‘Sleepy Tea’, which is far from tired. Distorted chord progressions build as drummer, Nathan Camarena, accompanies with a snare based rhythm leading to a moment of silence before the duelling guitars of Mario Camarena and Erick Hansel dive bomb into a noodle fest of winding licks that seem to harmonize without overpowering each other sonically. There’s a very carefree atmosphere during the set, void of the usual tensions that can arise during your average concert. The crowd bob along to the free flowing riffage and, whilst the occasional pit does open during the 15 song set that CHON deliver, there’s no aggression to be found. Just pure expression and they let the music carry them.
There’s little interaction between the band and the audience this evening, yet that’s absolutely fine in this case. With so little vocals in their work it can be excused. The instruments are what people are here for. That being said, the band is extremely talented. The level of stamina it must take to perform a set featuring that much technical ability is a testament to their endurance. Mario seems to be the glue that band perform around, his guitar setting the tone and signalling a direction for the multiple twists and turns that their set list packs as he noodles through with ease.
The set draws to a close with ‘Bubble Dream’. A bouncy track that chugs along before being broken up with segments of tapped arpeggios, the crowd pulses in time with the music before settling into disorientated quiet as the music stops; only to be revived by an encore of ‘Cant Wait’. The only track of the night that includes vocals, performed by Erick. It’s surprising that they don’t have more songs in this style. A slowed down ballad that becomes more drum oriented as the somewhat repetitive but catchy chorus of “I cant wait, I cant wait anymore” leads into a frenetic riff that amps up the pace.
The key to CHON is balance. They’re somehow able to tame the expanse of instrumental songwriting into a litany of concise and punchy tracks; that cohesively work in a set comprised of albums of differing style. CHON are a truly unique live experience that begs to be seen, regardless of your attitudes towards the seemingly overcomplicated world of math-rock.