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LIVE REVIEW: The Sound of Animals Fighting, Philadelphia, PA

TSOAF FacingThe Sound of Animals Fighting really seem like more of a prog-rock/post-hardcore circus than an experimental rock supergroup.  As I stood pressed up against the front row of slackers, I recognized the guitar-tech/stage-hand to be Peace’d Out’s bassist.  And let me tell you something, when the guy taping down setlists and strategically placing bottles of water on stage is a more talented bassist than most, you can only imagine how mind-blowing the actual band is about to be.  Before the show, the sound guy is playing rounds of Jawbreaker hits because even he knows that Jawbreaker is slacker music 101.

The Heretic

The lights begin to lower; enter ringmaster Rich Balling, except he’s not walking onto center-stage, rather, down to the front row where he hands out water to the pit before the set begins like he’s tending to his awaiting and eager children.  I look down at my shoes as both “Interlude” and “Overture” from Tiger and the Duke Re-Release shatter my eardrums and tuck in my laces in preparation for the inevitable seven years of pent-up onslaught about to occur around me.  Much to my amazement none other than vocalist Matthew Kelly of The Autumns appears leading an entourage of (seemingly blind) humans in yellow and orange morphsuits.  It’s only about to get as weird as I was hoping.  The yellow and orange bodies formed a kind of cocoon around Kelly as he started out the night’s set with the classic a cappella “The Heretic” singing “don’t be afraid” but I am, gladly scared with anticipation.  As Kelly and his bright bodied entourage leave stage a brand new group of colored bodies gets blindly lead to the front of the stage unveiling a banner which reads “We Want To Become the Change We Want To See.”  As the banner collapses the classic TSOAF line-up emerges to run through Acts I-III including their respective interludes with the originally recorded Tiger and the Duke vocalists.  Out of the corner of my eye I catch ringmaster Balling just off the side of the stage dramatically bowing down to the legendary shredding Steve Choi on guitar.

A swarm of blue bodies hunches over in a row at the end of the stage followed by yellow bodies forming a sun in the middle of the stage.  The ocean and the sun metaphor was laid on a bit heavy, but with tunes this good, hell, there could be an elephant in a morph suit taking a shit on stage and I’d still be tickled to death.  So you can only imagine my excitement when, for the first time ever, the reincarnation of TSOAF begin “I, The Swan” before my very own bloodshot eyes.  At the song’s peak of the dynamic masterpiece Anthony Green must’ve forgotten that there were actual people beneath those blue morphsuits as he props his foot upon the back of one unlucky blue body and half attempts to stand on top of him before catching himself in amusement.  TSOAF then effortlessly blow through other live-debuted tracks like “Another Leather Lung,” “Cellophane,” and “The Heraldic Beak of the Manufacturers Medallion” with ease.  Between songs A. Howe and I can only utter guttural sounds and coughs to each other as if in some other language meaning “Dear God, what is this heaven we’re witnessing?!”  What came into the Trocadero earlier that night as a crowd of seemingly apathetic slackers turned into a choir of enthusiastic gang vocalists preaching every single word with effortlessness and gusto.  As the set began to come to more relaxed closing, showcasing SOAF’s trip-hop elements with tracks like “Chinese New Year” and “My Horse Must Lose” I noticed that even the burly, gangster bouncers couldn’t even help but bob and donk their heads along to the magically infectious beats.  As a closing track the crowd was treated with yet another live debut of “On The Occasion of Wet Snow”.  Preceded by a moments of disorienting and piercing screeches from equipment on stage coupled with a theatre-wide stomping chant for the upcoming encore, “Skullflower” and “Act IV” including an unsurprisingly unmatched array of vocal and guitar work from Matt Embree.

Content with what the evening had given us, and what we had given back in spirit, at the end of it all, raised eyebrows in astonishment was the only reaction A. Howe had for me. Before walking out I noticed Philadelphia residents Kenny Vasoli (The Starting Line) and Dan Schwartz (Good Old War) palling around offstage with the rest of the SOAF crew, and 16 year old me felt more overjoyed than 22 year old me could ever understand.  The quote of the night comes from a fan that promptly came up to A. Howe and I after the show to profess in astonishment, “I’ve been tripping balls all weekend, but even I know this; what just happened on that stage, was real!”  If there’s one thing you should take away from that beautifully orchestrated statement, it’s to remember that the show we just watch, happened on a Friday with the weekend still very much ahead of us.  A performance that makes you wonder whether or not anything about your weekend other than the show was real, all before the weekend even happened yet?  These are the types of shows we dream about.

Buy concert tickets here to catch The Sound of Animals Fighting on any of their only show not sold-out yet in Tempe, Arizona, and purchase a CD here (or pick-up a pre-order of their recently released LP’s).

Drew Bankert is back to living like a slacker after his TSOAF-filled spring break.  You can follow him here – Facebook, or send him a message at – bankert.infectiousmag@gmail.com

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