Tag Archives: animals as leaders

2014: See Ya

On the whole, 2014 was a good year. Rather than making a semi-structured list, I found myself thinking about two extremes — things that were absolutely delightful, and things that gave me pause for 2015.

A Year of Live Music: Four Phish shows in three states, with four newbies in tow. Animals as Leaders twice in small venues. Tony Levin with both King Crimson and Stickmen, at opposite ends of the venue spectrum. Joe Bonamassa at his best; Dream Theater at their most average but still quite good; Flux Forteana at a downtown Boston pub. Also subscribed to Concert Vault, featuring the best of “Bill Graham Presents”, which has reinforced my love of (recorded) live music.

A Year of Travel: Four visits to Prague, three to Tel Aviv/Jerusalem, a return to Seattle after 30 years, only one trip to the Bay Area, a first visit to Curacao. Discovering local food in each city (especially Seattle!) was as much fun as returning to favorite haunts. Celebrated my 52nd birthday in the oldest city in recorded history, with good friends. Prague is a new favorite place to visit and work.

A Year of Waning Fandom: For some reason professional sports just didn’t capture my interest this year. The Yankees were lukewarm from April til September; the Devils are wallowing in middle age and directionless; I have ignored professional basketball since the Nets moved out of the Meadowlands. Even my beloved Tigers failed to show on the ice or finish on the hardwood. On the other hand, youth hockey is alive and well, and I have a great group of 6 year olds who get up for 7:00 am games at outdoor rinks. A visit to the Baseball Hall of Fame taught me things about our family’s sports allegiances that I had never known.

A Year of Small Miracles: I survived a fairly bad car accident, mostly through the benefit of seat belts, air bags, and a fraction of a second. One of my fellow hockey coaches beat his leukemia into remission. The Devils signed one of my favorite players whom I’ve wished to see in the tail and horns for years (Mike Cammalleri) and then proceeded to play non-miraculous hockey. I caught a 40-pound rooster fish at the end of two days of completely quiet sport fishing.

For all of the good and positive, there were some decidedly strange moments. We stayed at the Revel in Atlantic City during the last week it was open, and then watched a third of the city’s casinos financially implode. I found myself worrying about our “adopted” Israeli daughter, when she called quite late at night during her Army service. While giving a ride to some fellow Phans for the Mann Center shows, I got the sense that if you’re in your mid-20s, it’s a hard time to be financially independent. And with the number of security events (both large scale and more personal, like fraudulent credit card charges) I think we’re looking at a year calling for more diligence and caution in all electronic interactions.

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.