Animals As Leaders / David Maxim Micic / Nick Johnston (Live Review – Koko, London, July 5 2017)
As Animals As Leaders’ only UK show of 2017, this gig was literally one of a kind. As is becoming my custom at Koko, I set up camp near the ceiling and prepared for a bird’s eye view of a very special show.
Nick Johnston (95%) was the only act on this bill I hadn’t seen live before, although having reviewed his previous two albums Remarkably Human and Atomic Mind and chatted to him at length about the former for this interview, I knew to expect great things.
I was, of course, not disappointed. Backed up by Disperse drummer Mike Malyan – filling a spot owned on record by Gavin Harrison of Porcupine Tree and Marco Minnemann, and doing ultimate justice to it – Nick Johnston effortlessly filled a huge room with some of the smoothest, sweetest, most soul-drenched guitar melodies currently being put out there by any six-stringer living today. On the likes of set opener Remarkably Human and closer Hypergiant, Nick Johnston proves that less really can be more – but when this guy goes off, he doesn’t hold back.
In order to captivate a near-fifteen-hundred-capacity room with just a guitar and your fingers, you need to be pretty fucking good – and Nick Johnston has long passed the line marked “mastery”. Just before jumping into madcap rampage Out Of The Wasteland, Johnston dug deep into his bag of licks and tricks for the first Serious Guitar Showcase of the evening – and pulled out some absolute stunners. Small wonder Animals As Leaders themselves would bring him out for a later solo spot during their own tune The Brain Dance.
I last saw David Maxim Micic (95%) live back in March at the Borderline alongside Plini and Disperse. Given that Koko is a much bigger venue, the bar was obviously raised challenge-wise – so David Maxim Micic raised his performance even further, pulling out the support set of his life with the double-duty-pulling Mike Malyan alongside him. Although Micic’s set remained close to his previous London showing (Living Room / Someone Else’s Hat / 687 Days / Damar / Who Bit The Moon), I could happily watch him play those same songs many times consecutively without complaining.
They are just that sick.
Some people believe our reality is nothing more than a Matrix-style computer simulation. If they’re right, Animals As Leaders (100%) have hacked it just like Morpheus, Neo, and co. By all rights, the music Animals As Leaders play should not be humanly possible to conceive or execute.
Nonetheless, that’s exactly what Animals As Leaders have done, do do, and will doubtless continue to do long into the future. Chanting “Ohhhh Jeremy Corrrrbyyyyn” to the tune of The White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army is currently The Thing To Do At Gigs, the UK’s Labour Party leader being popularly regarded as the hero of the hour – and at Koko, Tosin Abasi was afforded the same honour between the blistering pairing Tooth And Claw and Nephele. As with most shows at Koko, the audience made the night as much as the band themselves did, singing and clapping along in perfect time with extremely particular rhythmic fragments.
Above all else, the Koko crowd won because even Animals As Leaders’ newest songs received the same level of immediate recognition as classics like Wave Of Babies, Tempting Time, and CAFO. Bear in mind that even commercial bands often struggle to get their fans interested in new material, and you have to admit and accept that Animals As Leaders are sitting on a wealth of hits – extremely niche hits maybe, but hits nonetheless.
AAL are one of the single most implausible live acts you will ever see. Therefore, you obviously have to see them if you haven’t already – and if you have, you’re doubtless salivating over the next time they land near you. Animals As Leaders are incapable of disappointing; the only question I have at this point is how big their next London headlining venue will be…
Were you at this show? What did you think? Leave a comment, follow me on Twitter, and let me know!