Animals As Leaders’ instrumental tech/prog metal is pretty niche stuff, so in a funky club deep in The Land Of Song, you’d expect to have elbow room to raise a glass of the fizzy amber stuff, right? Wrong. It’s roasting hot and rammed in here – and it’s only 7.30pm. Sure, Tosin Abasi’s trio are the headliners, but these three groups are a week into their well-attended European tour and this evening really feels like a triple-header; a mini ArcTanGent all of their own.
Rising Australian guitarist Plini is backed tonight by members of Intervals. His set is early but the fact everybody’s already here is telling. His music’s tough, djenty, replete with melody, and is greeted with a really raucous reception. “Seriously,” he tells us, almost taken aback, “you are the best UK audience yet.”
Thrumming with an intense energy all his own, Intervals’ main man Aaron Marshall can barely wait to swap places with Plini centre stage, and when he counts off the thunderous I’m Awake, things crank up a notch. This guy is a force of nature, good with the crowd and with a terrifying level of axe technique. Sure Shot and Black Box get a particularly good seeing to in a dizzying set that overwhelms the head, if not quite the heart.
Of course, in a room of 350 people, there was always going to be at least one dick. Sure enough, the house lights go down, Animals As Leaders take to the stage to thunderous approval and launch into the towering Wave Of Babies, then said dick starts lashing out at others in an unwelcome effort to get a moshpit seethe on. Then he rushes the stage. The music stops. No one’s having it, least of all guitarist Javier Reyes. “Just get the fuck out of here, man,” he orders, and the dick is ejected from the building. “Now that,” says Abasi, dry as tinder, “was a first.” They laugh, then take it from the top.
And top they are. Top gun. Top level. It’s paradigm-shifting stuff, this. Abasi, the sexy nerd, is a poster boy for quantum-age music that asks you to recalibrate your expectations of the electric guitar. From Tempting Time and The Price Of Everything And The Value Of Nothing/Behaving Badly to closer CAFO, Animals are an affront to the ear, just as Hendrix once was, Holdsworth, Fripp… hell, even Robert Johnson. And like much of the music celebrated within these pages, this will never be meat-and-potatoes enough to feed the masses. But as long as there’s a club full of baying fans and an atmosphere as electric as this, it can, will, must always flourish.