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SXSW Live Shot: Animals As Leaders

Technical genius begs for ecstasy
Richard Whittaker, 1:40pm, Sat. Mar. 15

There’s big difference between a rock show and a concert performance. Live, prog metal revivalists Animals As Leaders sit firmly on the concert side of that abyss.

As the witching hour passed, the D.C. trio was still tuning up, so the audience distracted itself by greeting King’s X creator Doug Pinnick like a conquering hero at the bar. Finally, the threesome were satisfied and took to the stage. There was still something missing, though. Like Pelican without the soul or Gojira sans the fury, Animals As Leaders demonstrated technical prowess, but no ecstasy.

Not every band needs to be Steel Panther, but would a bit of show in ‘rock show’ be somehow antithetical to founder/guitarist Tosin Abasi’s dedication to transcendental meditation? That’s the great unspoken influence on Animals As Leaders; he’s credited it with allowing him to unlock the unnerving blur that his fingers become onstage as much as for inspiring the complex yet jubilant instrumentals.

photo by Shelley Hiam

The virtuosity is indubitable, with Abasi’s excellence as a musician overshadowed only by the prodigious talents of co-guitarist Javier Reyes. Yet what’s it in the service of? The set sounded like a King Crimson rehearsal: Impossible to deny the genius, but most tracks felt like the middle movement of a much larger piece.

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