Animals As Leaders: Opening Night of US Tour

Friday night we ventured out to Amityville, NY for the opening night of the Animals as Leaders tour. From the $15 tickets to the two-plus hour drive out the Belt Parkway in a near-monsoon, this had the ingredients to make a difficult and memorable-in-a-bad-way kind of evening.
I’ll cut to the chase: It was the best $15 I’ve spent on live music (even pro-rating some other longer, more expensive shows) in ages. For the uninitiated, Animals as Leaders is three guys who make an awful lot of rhythmically and sonically complex music, sounding more like three guitarists and a bass player (or two guitars and two basses) than two guys playing 8-string guitars.
I first heard about them via Jeph Jacques’ Questionable Content comic, and the Bubba further added emphasis, that yes, these guys are the next big thing if you like “our kind” of music.

Whether tapping in unison, or grinding out a very heavy bottom, or having the guitars and drums meet and greet in slightly varying time signatures, Tosin Abasi, Javier Reyes and Matt Gartska produced one of the most technically impressive shows I’ve seen in ages. I was reminded of Stanley Jordan (and his custom 7-string guitar), Allan Holdsworth, and even bits of Mike Petrucci. Best of all, though, was Tosin’s big smile as they launched (literally and figuratively) into “Tooth And Claw”, and the 400 or so people packed into the club went mildly nuts.

One of the benefits of seeing a band like this live is that you can deconstruct the mechanics behind the musical madness. The first time I saw Godsmack I realized that Tony Rombolo uses simple effects and a lot of string bending to produce his characteristic tone; Abasi and Reyes split the duties of laying down the bass parts with complex chording and melody. Actually seeing the music played live makes listening to it more fun; I now have a sense of how the parts and instruments are factored. Like seeing a complex mathematical proof laid out in just a few steps, I’m impressed by its elegance.

My sole complaints: They played for an hour (not bad considering the ticket price, but they have material for a 90 minute show) and the merch guys confused XL and XXL sizing on the shirts (and despite the post-metal post-industrial direction, this post-50ish body doesn’t do XL concert shirts any more).

Chon was a completely serviceable opener, very similar musically and intriguing enough that I bought their new EP this morning. The US tour takes them through the midwest and then they are off to play TesseracT in Europe through the fall. Definitely a great show, and your math-music-metal-mood synapses will fire for days afterwards.

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