Animals As Leaders

support TesseracT
author AP date 07/10/14 venue Pumpehuset, Copenhagen, DEN

Despite once featuring as the drummer/producer for one of tonight’s co-headliners, Animals as Leaders, I must confess that the prospect of ”pushing the boundaries of progressive music while straddling the line between electronica and live performance” did not intrigue me enough to warrant supporting act Navene K (alias for Navene Koperweis) a proper review, rock webzine as this is. His live execution of heavy electro, similar at times to The Prodigy, is highly successful, with loops recorded on the spot with a static 8-string guitar mingling with decent, but not awe-inspiring drumming and a core of crushing electronica. I arrive two songs before his set’s conclusion, and although I can certainly recognise why this might appeal to some, it’s far from my alley; and so instead, I turn my attention to wondering how the first of the two headliners will fare with their re-introduced vocalist Daniel Tompkins.

All photos courtesy of Peter Troest


Though intrinsically different albums, both 2011’s ”One” and last year’s ”Altered State” struck me upon their release as unusually accomplished pieces of music, and continue to impress. It is therefore peculiar that I feel so anxious about watching them now, TesseracT having, since the last time they played in Copenhagen earlier this year, parted ways with vocalist Ashe O’Hara and brought in the already mentioned Daniel Tompkins, who handled vocal duties on “One”, as his replacement. O’Hara’s singing was, at times, unreal in its reach, so naturally the big question for tonight is: Can Tompkins mimic it, or will he make the “Altered State”-era songs his own?

As soon as the atmospheric samples resonating through the venue’s downstairs room give way to five figures on stage, and the uninterrupted delivery of the “Of Matter” segment of that record begins, that question no longer applies, as it is obvious Tompkins has a mind to render the three songs as faithfully as possible. In doing so he immediately reveals his shortcomings when it comes to hitting the highest pitches of O’Hara’s work - particularly so in the falsetto - ultimately butchering the chorus of fan favourite “Nocturne” near the end of the set instead of simply singing it in his own, equally enticing way. Growls too, of which there are plenty scattered across the “Concealing Fate” EP (embedded into “One”, you will recall) - played in full tonight - are nowhere to be heard, except for the rare occasion when bassist Amos Williams steps in to do a couple.

Still, songs like “Deception” and “The Impossible” are performed in riveting fashion, Williams, guitarist Acle Kahney & Tompkins all losing themselves in the groove and transforming a large portion of the stage into a blur of swinging hair and passionately strummed instruments. The crowd is lapping it up, both during the moody “April”, and the always stunning “Acceptance” which concludes the band’s set; and adding to these impressions a striking light show which only amplifies the elusive atmosphere of the band’s music, there’s little in the performance itself to point a finger at but the occasionally muddy nature of the mix. If only Tompkins had the courage to personalise the “Altered State” tracks…

Animals As Leaders

To deny either the songwriting genius or the instrumental prowess of Animals as Leaders’ prodigal founder Tosin Abasi would be to extinguish objective thinking. And yet, having seen the trio (completed by guitarist Javier Reyes & drummer Matt Garstka) once before, this brilliance is nigh impossible to translate into a concert. Such is the level of concentration required to play a song like “Tooth an Claw” with even meagre precision, that the total absence of vocals in the band’s music is more often than not a pressing issue. There is literally nothing but the persistently virtuosic guitar work of Abasi & Reyes to latch onto; no movement per se, nor even any real interaction with the audience (looking past the occasional awkward remarks made by Abasi).

There is of course huge value in simply witnessing the overwhelming amount of ideas distilled into the Animals’ songs - they are never tempered; they are ultra-technical at all times, barrages upon barrages of the sort of six string magic that drives amateur guitarists into giving up their hobby. And in the midst of the noodling melodies, you’ve got to give it to Abasi: the man has a divine sense of rhythm, as witnessed by the unforgettable groove of “Wave of Babies”. Backed by a much better sound mix than TesseracT just before then, Animals as Leaders are performing at the crest of their abilities - a fact which does not escape a visibly taken audience, nor yours truly. But as thoroughly scintillating as the set closing “CAFO” sounds in the live setting, there is something crucial missing from the live rendition of Animals as Leaders: a proper visual aesthetic.

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