It took me years to consider the way rock bands often fight for floor space, and how the amount of space allotted is often a metaphor for the breadth of their work. This is a situation unique to the world of rock and the amount of equipment bands need to haul in and out during their (hopefully) quick changeovers. Opening bands are given the least amount of space out of everyone despite the size and ferocity of the group, which makes watching a great opener all the more enthralling because one cannot help imagining what that same group might do with more space. This challenge is one faced by all bands on the rise, but only a select few rise to the occasion.
Car Bomb was the first of three bands when the Convergence Tour descended upon The Intersection during the first Friday in November. Their chaotic take on Metal was introduced without word, allowing the crunch of the guitar to speak for itself. Between their amps and monitors it seems they had mere feet to move, but they owned every in they had with a fury all their own. Where the evening’s later acts would often find their beauty through melody, Car Bomb preferred to channel a sound whose predictability would best be compared to a roll of the dice, keeping those in attendance on their toes throughout. You knew they could do more if given more space, but they didn’t need it in order to leave a lasting impression.
In the moments before Animals As Leaders took to the stage the sound guy played Kendrick Lamar’s “HUMBLE” while the metal loving crowd split into individuals mumbling lyrics to themselves and groups carrying on conversations as if the current king of hip-hop was not blessing the room’s superior sound system. As I walked to the back to grab a second drink, a (product I would happily mention for $$ just email me! [email protected]), a man smelling of weed and holding a (second promotional opportunity – email above!) stopped me with his hand and said “Hey man, I’m so sick and tired of photoshop” in a manner so effortlessly nonchalant it could only have been uttered with the optimum amount of alcohol in his twenty-something bloodstream. I couldn’t help laughing, and he continued on his to the front as though our moment never happened.
Before I could break into my (third potential mention!) the stage darkened and the sound of thunder flooded the room. Bright blue stage lights struck the audience as the distant sound of guitars slowly faded into a pulsating, drum driven effort that quickly entranced the Grand Rapids crowd. Animals As Leaders had arrived, delivering over an hour of instrumental metal that played like an extremely technical take on modern jazz. If Car Bomb found their sound in the erratic, often unpredictable corners of heavier music then Animals As Leaders found theirs in the unexplored grooves that could tether even the most elaborate metal friendly riffs together. Their art is an impeccably performed balancing act specificity and looseness focused on finding and promptly losing oneself in the flow of a sonic moment. They barely addressed the crowd as they played, yet the the room hung on every note.
“That was fucking adventure we just went on,” my photographer exclaims while the final notes of Animals As Leaders’ fade into the quiet roar of concert crowd conversation and applause. “I was up front. It doesn’t even look like they’re playing half the time because their so damn nimble!” This is true. Watching Animals As Leaders perform often feels like witnessing a great painter at work. They don’t move all that much and they always look deep in thought, but what they may lack in showmanship they more than make up for in the art they produce.
As I stepped outside to catch my breath and cool off, the heat coming out of the increasingly crowded venue turned to a white fog as it greeted the chilly November night. Groups of young men drenched in sweat reciting tales of mosh pit memories in between puffs of cigarettes and vape pens shivered just feet from the door without acknowledging the fact they’re all wearing black t-shirts with various band logos emblazoned upon them. They may have been huddled with the people they know best, but everyone in that space was part of the same music community. They are the rock and roll believers who fight to keep the genre and artists they love alive with their wallets and outspoken devotion. It may have been nearly freezing outside, but they were willing to stand there if it meant a chance to recover enough so they may once more give their all for a band whose music plays a pivotal role in their lives.
A door guy who made it a point to learn my name informed me the changeover would be fifteen minutes or less, giving providing just enough time to find a spot in the back of the room with full view of the stage. Some fans prefer the hot, sticky experience of being packed like sardines against the stage, but whenever witnessing a band known for their technical prowess I tend to most enjoy the view from the back. Anyone can wow someone standing five feet from them with enough lights and sound, but true talent is revealed in an artist’s ability to impress those watching from the back who are able to better hear and therefore better pick apart what is actually being performed on stage. I had no doubt Periphery would be up to the challenge, and they proved me right with a blistering set that captivated the already excited club.
Every genre has artists and groups who are able to take a concert and make it a memory. It’s not about the notes played or the songs song as much as it is the feeling in the room. Art, as we all know, is both an escape and an expression of self for everyone involved. The artist is expressing a thought or idea, while the audience is aligning themselves with that message as a way of telling the world who what they believe in. Both parties hope to be accepted for who they are, and when that mutually occurs a performance evolves into something more. Periphery pulled this feat off with a natural charisma that spoke to their passion for their craft. They gave their all over the course of an hour and the audience gave them theirs in return. Some may have stood still, but everyone was moved.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the night was how disconnected each performance seemed from the rest. It’s unclear if any band other than Periphery mentioned the other acts on the bill, and even their acknowledgement was little more than the prerequisite “give it up for everyone else on the show tonight” stage banter artists have used for generations. While all three bands are great, no one act necessarily made me excited for the others that would occur. This is not a complaint however, as the musicianship on display more than made up for the lack of connective tissue between bands. Everyone respected everyone, recognizing that the beauty of the metal community lies in its diversity, and because of this everyone was able to have a good time.
As I shuffled out of the club alongside my fellow metalhead the still falling temperatures greeted us with gusts of frigid wind that made people long to be back atop the slippery Intersection floors. The same groups I saw prior to Periphery’s set were once more huddled, smoking and puffing on vape pens with a look of elation on their faces. It was clear fans felt they got their money worth, but any doubts this were true could be quickly erased by listening to the conversations being had all around. “That was fucking awesome,” said one fan. “We need to go to more shows,” said another. They were both correct.
Animals As Leaders: