Marnie Stern/Tera Melos @ Santos Party House

NEW YORK, NY—In 2006, the Bay Area’s Tera Melos had the opening slot on a tour with The Fall of Troy, Portgual. The Man and Damiera. I made it to their New York and Philly shows, and found myself to be the only person knowingly bobbing my head like a moron to the chaotic, angular melodies and bizarre time signatures blasting from Melos’ amps. Nobody knew what to make of it; math rock, as a genre, was still relatively unheard of. Some would argue that this is still the case today, although a nearly sold-out crowd at Santos Party House in Manhattan might beg to differ.

On this, their second tour with New York native Marnie Stern, there seemed to be a different energy in the air. Both acts released an album this past fall. Stern’s self-titled third full-length hit the shelves in October to relative critical acclaim, while Tera Melos’ Patagonian Rats debuted in September. Clearly these releases garnered them a good amount of attention—the turnout, compared to previous shows, was staggering. The kissing booth Marnie Stern was once notorious for (offering pecks on the cheek for $10, or a full make-out session for $100, and I’m not joking) was nowhere to be found, a sign that she was no longer hurting for cash on tour, or at the very least, she was no longer quite so desperate.

Tera Melos had the opening slot. They’ve always been a thrill to watch; guitarist/vocalist/mastermind Nick Reinhart switches frantically between guitar pedals, midi controllers and furious bidextral tapping. In the first few years after their formation, Melos was known for cartwheels, bloody fingers and broken rafters. While this was still a high-energy performance, they were notably more docile than in years past. They played a jam-packed 40-minute set of almost exclusively recent material. That’s from what I could tell, anyway. The sound was terrible. The bass was muffled and overbearing, the guitars totally off-balance, and Reinhart was visibly distressed. These guys can be pretty anal about their tone, and with good reason—their music is hard enough to pick apart and absorb even in high fidelity. Nonetheless, the crowd didn’t seem to care, and a small mosh pit formed in front of the stage.

Marnie Stern then took to the stage afterwards for her hometown crowd. The sound was considerably better, and her virtuosic tapping and shredding was far more discernible. She too wandered mostly through recent material. Her high-pitched voice, long blond hair, wide smile and goofy stage antics made her seem out of place at first, but as soon as she began playing it was clear that she means business. She always tours with a solid rhythm section, and this one did not disappoint, except perhaps for those who were hoping to see her studio drummer, Zach Hill (of Hella fame). With her trademark grin, she wrapped up her roughly 60-minute set to rapturous cheering and applause.

While perhaps not the best performance I’ve seen from either of these acts, it was encouraging to see how music with so little mainstream appeal can garner such a following within the course of a few short years. As they wrap up this dense, month-long tour on the West Coast, I’m sure they’ll take some time to recover. But given the response they’ve gotten to their recent efforts, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them both back in the studio within the coming year.