Mazes At The Lexington

By the time Mazes took the stage at the Lexington, I felt there was more in the atmosphere than mere expectation.

Four hours earlier, when I’d first caught sight of them, they were just a band. I’d listened to their plentiful singles, watched their videos and read their reviews. They’re Pavement; they’re pop; they’re Mark E Smith; they’re lo-fi.

I felt like I had the measure of Mazes.

Yet as I caught snatches of their sound-check, watching them do battle with a defiant mixing desk, my impression began to change. They became real and, unfortunately for the purposes of my review, less amenable to description.

At first glance, Mazes are a four-piece that strike you as being consummate musicians. They know their songs and their craft impressively well, which may explain why their music has been described as pop. It channels wastrel-moan of punk and the easy slouch of slacker alt-rock with an easy grace without ever collapsing into the potential amateurishness of either.

After playing throughout England these past two weeks, with a tour of the US supporting Sebadoh looming, Mazes seemed to arrive at The Lexington in a wearied state. At least, their disappointment in the venue’s acoustics, and the between-song comments of lead singer Jack seemed to suggest as much.

More of which later.

In the meantime, the night’s proper opening sounds came courtesy of the fey, hyper-cynical and ever-so-slightly dandyish swaying of Eagulls’; particularly lead singer George Mitchell, who laboriously birthed each of his words over a fantastically energetic straight-up punk cacophony. They were followed by the muffled monotony of Milk Maid, perhaps another casualty of the mixing desk, leaving a dance floor eager for just the kind of sprightly energy Mazes repertoire is capable of providing.

And the audience got what they wanted. Mazes are showmen and before ripping through their singles, they began with a cold-opener. The flat lure of a guitar tone reeled all the room’s disparate attention in one direction and then, after a pause, the band let loose. Jumping and hopping through the verses and “oohing” their way through the choruses, Mazes worked their way up to their current single, Farewell Summer’; a song that best represents the blooming of their musical style. By this point, most of the crowd were twisting and dancing like they were on puppet-strings.

But, as mentioned, I couldn’t help but see more in it.

Was there a certain menace, self-loathing even, undercutting those bright melodies? Little glances of dissatisfaction directed towards the mixing desk, post-song “Thank you’s” tinged with bemusement and a song that began with a false start. Hints of something darker going on under the surface. Beneath those bouncing singles, there was the murmur of over familiarity; a sense that Mazes had played these songs so much that they might have started to lose their meaning.

In fascinating and thrilling contrast, however, were the suggestions of energy and redemption that emerged as Mazes ended each of their songs. With verse-chorus-verse gone, they’d kick into heavier, thudding, thumping guitar riffs and come to life. With the onset of these winding, introspective solos, strums and screeches that ground down the melodies into something darker, more essential and abstract, I could feel the band breaking free.

As the night ended, a moment that perfectly summed up Mazes and the evening unfolded. With their final song having entered its guitar solo in solid rock tradition, frontman Jack Cooper began to unstrap and pack away his guitar with the song still in flow. Their set had seemingly been cut short by a few songs and the night was threatening to end with a sense of dejection.

Then something changed.

For some reason, through some private act of resolve, Cooper picked his guitar back up and Mazes finally attacked the chorus one last time with renewed enthusiasm. It’s that energy that makes Mazes worth watching, and I think they might need more of it to sustain them into the future.

James Munroe

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October 2011
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