Deftones/Periphery @ Wellmont Theatre

MONTCLAIR, NJ—I’ll admit I’m a more recent fan of the Deftones. When I finally got on board, it was with 2010’s Diamond Eyes. The opportunity to see the band for the first time with another as phenomenal as Periphery seemed like one of the rare occasions where you can go to a show, enjoy all the music and get home before midnight, so it was no surprise the Wellmont was sold out.

Arriving shortly after 8 p.m., I entered the theatre a song or a song and a half into Periphery’s set. Typically, the band was as near perfect as it gets instrumentally. Singer Spencer Sotelo was on point for the most part. High notes and screams come easily to him, though he struggles with the low to middle-register as many singers do in the live setting.

The sound for Periphery wasn’t quite right. From where I was standing (on the floor, stage right) it sounded like there was a fuzzy blanket of bass frequencies covering everything that came from the PA. It was a weird muffled quality that might be more due to the theatre acoustics (perhaps even where I stood) than the PA equipment itself. But there was something else about their performance that rubbed me the wrong way.

I get that Periphery’s music is hard to play and all. They’re terrifically inventive when it comes to rhythm and with three guitars, bass, drums, automated electronic tracks and such a dynamic vocalist, I can understand the guys not wanting to stray far from their monitors. What I don’t get is the utter lack of excitement the group projected.

I’ve seen Periphery before in a small venue and they’ve been great. You’d think they would know by now that you have to try a bit harder make your presence felt in a big room. Guitarist Mark Holcomb stood on a monitor (stage left) for much of the set, but once he was up there, he was stationary looking at his hands.

Periphery were little more than four statues, bent at the neck and waist, an admittedly fun to watch drummer in Matt Halpern and a frontman (Sotelo) who has not one interesting thing to say to the crowd. Making Sotelo’s posing and pedestrian banter even more vexing was the fact that he didn’t really have to say anything; Periphery always have tracks playing in-between songs to allow for seamless guitar changes. It’s not like he had to break awkward silences.

The word “motherfucker” only gets you so far. And if you can’t speak without peppering that in every other word, please (I’ll use words Sotelo would understand) “shut the motherfuck up!” Greg Puciato, he is not.

Deftones took the stage around 9:15 and shit got real, real fast. The band opened with “Be Quiet And Drive (Far Away)” and bunch of older songs, including “Minerva.” They played a healthy mix from their catalogue with the not terribly surprising exceptions of “Knife Party” and “Hexagram,” which are apparently semi-retired from the band’s live show. It was a great setlist that longtime Deftones fans would surely appreciate.

Chino Moreno is unquestionably one of the best frontmen in hard rock/metal today and bassist Sergio Vega could not have looked happier to be there for the entire 90-minute set. Stephen Carpenter kept to himself mostly with his beard and long hair blowing in his face while drummer Abe Cunningham’s presence was undeniable with his savage, heavy-handed playing.

Moreno’s genuine stage presence was in stark contrast to the contrived bullshit coming from Sotelo. Moreno was smiling and dancing the whole time and truly made an effort to welcome the crowd, asking old and new fans to identify themselves and thanking them all for their support. I do wonder, however, why he wears khaki pants if he’s going to sweat through them all the time. Black is beautiful after all.

The highlights of Deftones’ set for me were, of course, the Diamond Eyes tunes, including the title-track from that record, “Rocket Skates” and “CMND/CTRL” respectively. The dubious stomp of “Diamond Eyes” is perhaps the most recognizable song in the band’s repertoire and it immediately changed the dynamic of the room with moshers stutter-stepping and stumbling to the polyrhythmic thump.

“Passenger” came later in the set and I realized it was the first time I’ve heard that song with Moreno singing Maynard James Keenan’s parts. Moreno seemed to affect Keenan’s deliberate enunciation where possible en route to effectively staying true to the recorded version. “7 Words” closed the set with energy equal to that of all previous songs, and the crowd responded in kind, then waited patiently for the encore.

Deftones could have played for another hour and the crowd would have left with the same level of energy they had when the band first took the stage. Between the awesome light show, great setlist and the passionate performance, they showed me why they are so loved by their fans. But most importantly, they showed that the feeling is mutual.