GIG REVIEW: Animals As Leaders, Plini & Nick Johnston Live at The Metro Theater, Sydney
Rock bands with charismatic lead singers can normally attract large audiences and have venues packed out in minutes, yet purely instrumental groups without a front man have a harder time attracting fans and filling out large venues. However, this theory became obsolete as three instrumental bands came to play at the The Metro Theatre – a well-established music venue located in Sydney’s CBD with a long queue of fans excitingly waiting to get into the place. It was no surprise considering Animals as Leaders headlined, and had Plini and Nick Johnston as support.
The house was already full as Nick Johnston came on stage with his 5-piece band. Johnston’s guitar chops were impressive and his band complemented his boisterous soloing quite nicely. Each song had sharper and warmer guitar melodies than the previous, but there were no power chords or shredding in a thrash metal extravaganza kind of way. His compositions reminded me of songs from Opeth’s ‘Damnation’ and were very much in the style of old-school progressive rock bands.
The second support band of the night Plini came on stage with two guitarists and a thunderous rhythm section. In contrast to Johnston, the second band had a much more contemporary sound; they did however give props to Johnston by calling him Sick Johnston!
Plini’s entire set list was played with fast technical precision, really proving that they were the appropriate choice for supporting Animals as Leaders. The crowd was bobbing their heads to all their djent rhythms, and the guitar-tapping was impressive. The crowd was completely satisfied with Plini’s performance as they left us wanting more, and the expectation now lay on Animals as Leaders to deliver.
The lights dimmed and creepy soundscapes filled the background as Animals as Leaders came on stage and kicked their set off with “Arithmophobia” – the opening track from their latest LP, ‘The Madness of Many’ – followed by the heavily Jeff Beck-influenced “Ectogenesis” with its addictive low-end guitar picking. Animals as Leaders are just as good at replicating their music live on stage as they are in the studio; this is a high compliment to their playing abilities and work ethic as their music is highly complex and extremely elaborate. The trio was perfectly in harmony with each other in a sound that could only be described as life-forces designing some rich sonic architecture. You could let your imagination go wild as their music had futuristic qualities that would work well in a sci-fi horror film. They were like aliens or androids playing guitars, and yet their music still remained organic with very human emotions throughout.
The audience loved the heavy songs and mosh pits erupted on the dance floor throughout their set. Tracks that stood out from the set list were “Physical Education” with its funky metallic groove and the franticness of “An Infinite Regression”. Towards the end, Tosin Abasi announced to the exalted crowd that this was the best show they had played in Australia and the audience screamed with approval. This was the third tour Animals as Leaders have done in the country, but the first time Abasi brought his acoustic guitar and surprised us with their Flamenco-influenced piece “The Brain Dance” which made the show that little more special. Of course, the band could not finish the evening without an encore which the crowd passionately demanded with much adulation. When the band returned on stage they treated us to a soaring rendition of “CAFO” as their closing song and then said their goodbyes.
This was certainly a show to be remembered as Animals as Leaders continue to grow in popularity and now have a formidable reputation in the live music scene. They are leaving their mark as they bring back the art of guitar playing to an audience that truly appreciates sophisticated heavy music.