On March 8th I had the pleasure of witnessing one of the most prolific bands of our time. Formed initially in California in 2004, The Sound of Animals Fighting emerged onto the scene rather mysteriously. They did not credit anyone by name because it would create far too much buzz, but the band possessed quite a lot of star power, including members of Circa Survive, RX Bandits, Chiodos, and Finch. In their life, the band has released a trilogy of albums: The Tiger and The Duke, Lover… The Lord Has Left Us, and The Ocean and The Sun. In these three records, TSOAF proved themselves to be a force in modern progressive rock - drawing influences from a number of genres ranging from post hardcore to electronic, and even dabbling in some reggae. I was lucky enough to see them at Terminal 5 in New York with support from Lorelli K, Boston based screamo band The Saddest Landscape and Colorado based post-hardcore band Planes Mistaken For Stars.
We arrived as Lorelli K’s set was concluding but what we did catch was in itself a spectacle. The stage was desolate besides her, she was illuminated with one beam of light waving around an abnormally long feather. Her voice soared and looped to an experimental pop track as a crowd watched in both awe and probably some confusion. We only caught the last few minutes of her set but it was a good precursor to the rest of the night.
The next band was The Saddest Landscape who have been around a little longer than The Sound, bursting onto the underground hardcore and screamo scene in 2002. They played an aggressive set featuring such songs as "Once We Were Immortal" and "Declaring War on Nostalgia". Their sound was ferocious with manic screaming vocals, ear-blistering guitar, and pounding drums. A small circle pit broke out at lead singer Andy Maddox’s command. At the end of the set he climbed over the rail and rode the crowd like a wave, screaming into their heads as the crowd screamed back up at him.
Next was Planes Mistaken for Stars, who created a mood change. While they maintained the aggression of TSL they did it in a more aggro and less depressive fashion. Blending post hardcore with blues rock they were a continuous punch in the face from beginning to end. I have never heard a voice like singer/guitarist Gared O’Donnell’s, it was like taking a blues singer putting a driveway’s worth of gravel down his throat along with some sandpaper for good measure. Songs like "Dementia Americana" and "Belly Full of Hell" put us all through the floor sonically. In addition to a phenomenal set, it was announced that their drummer Mike Rickett is near the completion of his doctorate!
Finally, it was time for The Sound of Animals Fighting. When they started I was on the merch line because I knew the line after the show would be unbearable and I wanted to get a shirt. Once I finally got out the band was halfway through their track "I, The Swan". I entered through the back parting the seas like some kind of punk rock Moses but once I made it to the pit the stage opened up like the gates of heaven.The light arrangement was awe inspiring. They had LEDs dangling above the stage that would flash in accordance with the music, but then I noticed an orange orb of light swinging around. I followed its wire down to find the light in the hand of singer Anthony Green who was as commanding as ever. The crowd was putty in his hand: he would scream and the crowd would scream back; he'd start a line, hold his microphone in the air, and the crowd would finish it. There was a kind of symbiotic relationship between Green and the crowd. I dove head first into the pit joining all the chaos, running back and forth and getting thrown around like I was weightless, then suddenly things went quiet. The drum intro to "Blessings Be Yours Mr. V" started and we just opened the pit. There was a lull and then all hell broke loose. I was jumping around like a madman. Next to me there was an eight person pile up with everyone trying to clear the way for them to all get up. Hearing guitarist Matt Embree of Rx Bandits live for the first time was a surreal experience because the last time they played any of these songs live I was only 16 and had missed that tour.
The energy did not subside throughout the set. I myself was the victim of a pile up but as all pits are, as soon as someone sees you go down, five people jump to help you back up. This only escalated once they started performing the acts of The Tiger and The Duke. The pit became a hurricane of bodies just sending each other all over the place. They wove through acts I through IV never missing a single beat or hit, in other words, the band was unbelievably tight. During "Act II: All Is Ash or the Light Shining Through It", I threw my arms around a friend that I had made in the pit and we charged right into the eye of the storm. The vocal cast was ever revolving, just as they’ve always been, but when Matthew Kelley of the Autumns came out to sing the room went silent. Suddenly a synthesizer washed over all of us and everyone lost their minds; they were playing "The Heretic". The lights all turned white again making the stage look like heaven and everyone came together and sang “Does this look like that?”. It was a moment of calm that brought some to tears.
As the lights came on and the show concluded, the room was filled with gaping expressions of awe, shows like that do not come often. The Sound of Animals Fighting puts on an unreal performance and it may have something to do with this being their third tour despite existing for well over a decade. The energy followed everyone on their travels home. I got home around 1 in the morning but could not sleep until 3 - I had not completely processed what I had just witnessed, and to be honest I still don’t think I have. All I know is I’m still kicking my 16 year old self for not going to see them on their second tour.