There are few bands that I need to see live, not because I’m a massive fan and know all their songs by heart, but just to see if they can live up to expectations. Animals As Leaders was certainly one of those groups. As I stood in line for the sold-out Opera House show, I, along with roughly a thousand others, was stoked to check them out. The group is on tour in support of their newest album with help from INTERVALS and Plini, and the line for the show went around the corner (Like, way around the corner). These instrumental bands were about to make me feel shitty about my musical comprehension in the process.
Up first was Plini. To say I dug these guys would be an understatement. Their musical style was a unique blend of uplifting post-rock and heavy prog metal that the already full floor was thrilled to experience. They played a fair amount of music in 4/4 with plenty of odd subdivisions and accents to add to the complexity of their sound. All four members shined here and proved to be equally competent of their instruments. Both guitarists made excellent use of vibrant clean tones to add plenty of feeling to the music, and they made the space between notes count as much as the notes themselves. The Australian frontman would quietly and sometimes awkwardly address the crowd from time to time, but it added to the experience and certainly made Plini a memorable act. Their music was complicated, but not too harsh on the ears or the brain. I could listen to these guys for hours.
After a short break, INTERVALS was up next. They walked onstage to a bit bigger of a light show and… hey, what gives?! They’re literally the same guys as before! The guitarists just switched places! I’m not complaining, though; I said I could listen to these guys for hours, so I kind of got what I wanted. The music itself was slightly altered when being performed under the different name, thanks to the Toronto frontman taking over songwriting duties with this project, but that didn’t make INTERVALS’ performance any less enjoyable. The clean elements were scrapped and replaced with a heavier, sometimes faster, progressive sound, ripping impressive solo after solo. The crowd was more receptive to this act and that brings up an interesting point. Familiarity is a funny concept to me, especially as someone who hasn’t heard this group’s music before. It was hilarious to see a sold-out crowd lightly headbanging to an impressive set of riffs and solos overtop a complex rhythm, while, five minutes later, seeing that same crowd lose their shit and start a pit after hearing a slightly different set of riffs and solos over an equally impressive rhythm. The band didn’t mind, though, and constantly made mention of how their Toronto stop was the best of the tour so far.
About half an hour later, Animals As Leaders stepped on stage, and, well, they met expectations very quickly. I was interested to see how a crowd would respond to heavy, instrumental music played in ridiculous time signatures, and sure enough, they reacted the way any group of music fans would when hearing their favourite band. Massive pits erupted, and minds were blown. The sound was surprisingly clear considering how heavy the music was, even being able to make out the notes and chords played on the lower registers of the 8-string guitars. Tosin Abasi’s soulful solos were played overtop static progressions provided by the other two members to an almost robotic-like precision. It’s tough to believe these guys are human. Abasi would chat with the crowd now and then, mostly to introduce whatever songs off their new album that they played, and he proved himself to be a pretty humble and likeable guy.
The roughly ninety-minute set ended with a strong encore chant, but to no avail. To be fair, I was relieved. My brain could only take so much of their unique progressive style. Granted, I wasn’t as familiar with the actual songs as most people at The Opera House that night, but I’m realizing they’re a band I can only enjoy in small doses.
Written by Mathieu Perrier
*edited by Danielle Kenedy