Embarrassment Never Felt so Good: Cynic Live, One

Can you believe it: your eloquent Narrator humiliated himself in front of Paul Masvidal. The ever-flowery penner who has no trouble constructing pretty collections of words was caught in the trap of too-much-to-say-with-too-little-time. So, instead of reciting the thoughtful lines I’d prepared all week, I, first, giggled like a shy girl, and then burst into a monolithic rant on Cynic’s musical history, without a hint of beckoning, and even less context. Yes, I told Paul Masvidal what his own music sounds like.

The chemistry of a lifelong friendship.
The chemistry of a lifelong friendship.

I shouldn’t be allowed near my heroes. No matter how much I convince myself I won’t look silly, I always end up looking silly. I’m like a kid that refuses to let go of a piece of candy, even though he’s full and has had enough. Cynic and Intronaut are my candy. And enough is not enough. See, I’m sitting in the corner of a train station as I’m writing this. It’s dark, cold (no matter how much I prepare, I’m never ready for the agony train stations throw at me), a wind keeps blowing into my face even though the doors are shut, and after getting just a hair over two hours of sleep today, my body is ready to quit. And yet, I’m having no trouble slinging this together. But put me in front of Paul, and I go all googly-eyed.

In my defence, though, Cynic gave me a ton to talk about, because their set provided it. For example, Paul’s singing was so subversive it was almost beyond surprising. He would prolong certain notes, distort others, and ignore some choruses all together, all to the point that singing along required one to stay on edge because we quickly realised Cynic weren’t going to be taking the verbatim route. It gave the show an improvisational feel, and in hindsight, makes absolute sense—even if no one was expecting it.

The songs, too, were distorted. I’m a big fan of “Integral,” the remix of the masterpiece “Integral Birth,” and they did something so brilliant it was utterly logical looking back at it, but equally unexpected because no one would think they had the balls to try it: rather than play only one of the two songs (a shame, because I’d love to hear both, but that’s impractical), they combined them, with Paul playing “Integral” as an overture, before the band collectively jumped into “Integral Birth.” It was a stunning amalgamation that fit so perfectly one could have assumed it was but a single song originally composed as such.

Differently, during “King of Those Who Know,” Paul stretched the final solo part, and it was here that my emotion reached its peak. As is my way, I closed my eyes during most of the show (breaking only to see the odd solo or clap in between songs), and thus listened to this part quietly, feeling the notes flow around the stage. He was clearly having fun with it, because they shifted back and forth between sweet melody and jazzy twang (speaking of twang, there was also very liberal use of the tremolo arm). Then, as he weaved toward the traditional ending, I quickly opened my eyes to get my bearings and suddenly saw him right in front me. We’ve been here before, when I discussed the connection I felt with Intronaut the first time I saw them. We know that connection may have been nothing but my selfish perception, and that may be true again, here, as Paul may very well have been meaning to pose for the photographer also in front of me. Each is as probable as the other, but when I saw him playing in front of me, I felt that instant spark. I felt, fairly or unfairly, that for that brief moment, the entire venue had melted away, and, for that brief moment, Paul, standing as one person before another, was conversing with me in the purest form possible—wordless sound. And without my bumbling tongue to screw it up, this moment was perfect. This was why I invest so much energy in music, and in this singular speck of the band’s set, all that investment leapt out of me as every note flowed deeper through my veins. By the next song, “Veil of Maya,” I could contain myself no longer, and burst into tears midway through. I was done. (Hopefully whatever manliness I have masked this fact.)

Will Paul forgive my imposition when we met him after the show? Considering how long I’d been waiting to see them live, how great they played, how much emotion I expelled during their set, and how all those three things came together, I just hope he can understand.


The chemistry of a lifelong friendship.
I could swear I recognise Max from someplace. My girlfriend says he reminds her of Chuck Schuldiner, but I don’t see it. Chuck had the habit of lifting the neck really high, and his legs were always close together because of the way he soloed. Perhaps she’s seeing something else, but Max, to me, has the look of a typical technical death metal musician. It’s efficient and no-nonsense, but still masculine-looking enough to look cool. But, still, I know that face. I just can’t remember from where. Maybe someone can help me out with it.

This review sounds Masvidal-centric, but in reality, when I was paying attention to the playing, I was probably most focused on Sean Reinert. He plays with an interesting mix of efficiency and groove. His technique is perfect, but at the same time, he doesn’t hold anything back. If I wasn’t too busy listening to the music, I could have focused on him solely and still found a large amount of enjoyment, because it’s quite something to behold. He may still aspire to reach the heights of his own heroes like Vinnie Colaiuta, but I still believe he’s in a class of his own.

Sean slept until Cynic’s set, and then disappeared, as far as I can tell, after it, so I never spoke to him. (Editor’s note regarding that cryptic sentence: a subsequent conversation with Sean revealed that he was suffering from an illness at the time, and was consequently recuperating in the bus.)

Cynic’s other guitarist, Max Phelps, laughed when I said he looked quiet, but I think his onstage demeanour was very serene. It may perhaps be a product of the fact that this isn’t his band, or not, or he could just have been focusing on the music intensely. He barely seemed to move, and my girlfriend, who prefers the opposite of my closed-eyes style and thus saw much more than me, pointed this out herself several times. It’s a change from the forced intensity you sometimes see from insecure musicians.

Also, this guy was my age when Focus was released? I should just quit making music right now.

The chemistry of a lifelong friendship.
Brandon plays an instrument uncharacteristic of Cynic: a fretted bass. His reason? “I don’t own a fretless bass!” Thankfully, Cynic didn’t turn him away because of it.

Brandon Giffin, the bassist, has a fascinating story: he left his previous band, The Faceless (for whom I admittedly have little love), so he could return to school. I assumed this was the typical Andols Herrick-like route of a musician leaving a band because he wants to improve through educational means, but there was actually zero truth to that assumption—turns out, he wants to become a biologist, the qualification required to permanently join his local zoo in Los Angeles (where he has already logged over 100 hours). How cool is that? Not only is he talented enough to play bass for Cynic, but smart enough to become a biologist (on his dual passions, we found a kinship, as his mentality on the matter mirrors mine exactly). In fact, we ended up talking more about animals than music the whole time we spoke.

Apparently, he has bred snakes (none of them venomous and mainly pythons, for totally rational reasons to me), and left school again to join Cynic. (I made a Mike Mangini/Dream Theater reference upon hearing that, but it went over the heads of all involved.) As Cynic don’t tour all that often, he plans on returning when they finish this cycle, and thus, as long as Cynic has a place for him, wants to continue that pattern of steady ascension. I’m rooting for him.

The chemistry of a lifelong friendship.
From left to right: Jim Hughes, Paul Ortiz, Boris Le Gal.

I have to give Paul (Masvidal) some love for putting up with me. The greatest example of his patience was when we were about to leave, and I said something to the effect of, “I just want to say something,” and implying I’d be quick. After thanking him for still making music (I bungled this one, too, but I was trying to say that Cynic being around is good for music as a whole, not just me), I promptly went off again, saying a second thing, and a third. Throughout all of it, he never dropped eye contact, and even asked Erin, the tour manager, to finish. (Erin, by the way, is a great individual. Every time we talked with her she was super-nice in a genuinely sincere way.) It’s shockingly rare, unfortunately, that bands actually listen to what their fans are saying and pay attention. (The only other exception that comes to mind is Intronaut, though to be fair, I don’t speak to many bands.) So, not only did Paul put up with me, but he actually listened to what I had to say, too.

The chemistry of a lifelong friendship.
Adam, in the moment.

If you ever get the chance to check out Chimp Spanner, do it. The level of talent in that band is so high, the drummer, Boris Le Gal, likes to goof off in the middle of complex sections (you can view his audition for the band here), and bassist Adam Swan, with whom band-leader Paul Ortiz played in Monuments, displayed some blazing speed. (I have to admit, his unassuming appearance completely threw me off. I wasn’t expecting him to be that good.) Chimp Spanner was a one-man project until being joined by Le Gal, Swan, and guitarist Jim Hughes for their continental tour. It’ll be interesting to see where they go next, because I like this group.

The only weakness I see in the music is that it contains a slight overabundance of "djent", a style of music that doesn’t speak to me. Otherwise, it’s good stuff.


On 10 March 2014, an anonymous person left the following comment regarding this review:

A comment on this line, whose present significance has gone unnoticed: "I could swear I recognise Max from someplace. My girlfriend says he reminds [her] of Chuck Schuldiner, but I don’t see it."

Max has since joined the re-incarnated Death, formed in honour and support of Chuck, as the vocalist. Save for the leadership role, Max has in essence taken Chuck’s place in the band. How prescient of her!

Very prescient, indeed! As it happens, I got to see the re-incarnated Death (as Death To All), and Max performed admirably in Chuck’s role, right down to Chuck’s signature high-pitched growls. You can view an example here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E_Yc-GTOs98