Concert Review: Between the Buried and Me / Animals as Leaders / The Contortionist (Part 2 of 2)

Yesterday, I wrote about my experience meeting the members from Between the Buried and Me and Animals As Leaders. It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. If you thought my night couldn’t get better than that, then be prepared for Part 2 of my concert review!

Before I even begin about the sets, I want to take a moment to fill you in on the venue. A 1920’s theater and landmark in North Park, the North Park Theater was recently purchased by the same guys who own the Observatory in Santa Ana just an hour north. It was my first visit to this venue, so I did the obligatory research to see how other concertgoers felt. Boy, did I get nervous after what I read.

Just a few days prior, a concertgoer was assaulted by a security staff, having done nothing to provoke him. The group of concertgoers eventually were kicked out of the theater after they complained to management. If that wasn’t bad enough, I also read about the security guards violating concertgoers during their searches before entering. I couldn’t help thinking “What did I get myself into?” Luckily, my experience with the venue and staff wasn’t the same. Although the security guards were little arrogant and annoying (like every other venue I’ve been to), I had no trouble with them. In fact, they did a decent job keeping the insanity down to tolerable levels during the harder moments. Whether it was a troublesome employee who was having a bad day, or a situation blown way out of proportion, I was happy knowing I was safe during the concert.

The theater itself was very nice. All the seats from the old theater had been ripped out, leaving a large open space. Despite its age, it was very clean, newly renovated and remodeled in some areas. The sound quality was decent, but as a precaution I bought some earplugs. Best $2 I ever spent, considering it was one of the loudest concerts I’ve been to. I used my VIP early entrance pass to stand first row with my two new friends I made earlier. What was interesting about the venue’s layout was a two foot tall concrete wall about ten feet behind me and in front of the stage. Despite how dangerous it was (God knows how many people bumped their shins on it during the concert), it actually worked out to my advantage. For the most part, it separated the moshers from the others, leaving me untouched for a majority of the concert. I would recommend the Observatory remove that wall in the future, though. I’m not sure how many broken shins it will take to listen.
For the first time I could recall, the concert started on time. Right at 7:30, The Contortionist graced the stage. Having only listened to their latest album “Language” in preparation of this concert, I was stunned by their performance. The lead singer was phenomenal, changing between a graceful, clean voice and deep, harsh growl. At one point, he added to his flair with a very loud and very unexpected shriek, a pitch I cannot recall any male vocalist doing in the past. I could see the audience’s reaction, being amazed by his range and stage presence. I only recalled a few songs from their latest album, but I still grooved along with the crowd. The lead guitarist also had moments of technical riffs and solos, with an expression that let us all know how much he was feeling his groove. I’d have to say The Contortionist was the second biggest surprise of the night, being one of the best opening acts I’ve seen since Thank You Scientist with Coheed and Cambria.
I’ve seen Animals As Leaders once before while they were touring with Circa Survive and promoting their first album. Now with three albums under their belts, they played the best of all of them. Using a mix of jazzy, technical, and even at one point flamenco-style riffs, Tosin Abasi poured his emotion into the Observatory. His style of play reminds me of guitarists like Tony McAlpine and Steve Vai, two of the most highly recognized and renowned guitarists today. There were so many jaw-dropping moments of fret tapping, thumb beating, and sweep picking, I couldn’t help but stare in amazement. With the addition of electronic sounds over the speakers, Animals As Leaders recreated the best melodies off their records. Despite Tosin’s amazing performance, I believe the drummer Matt Garstka stole the show, and was by far my favorite performer of the entire night. The set they chose offered many moments of improvisation, which he utilized with fast and technical drum solos. To be honest, the set was so great, I preferred it to their actual recordings. I feel they were able to capture more emotion in that hour long set than I’ve ever felt in any of their albums.
After having spent the past five and a half hours at the Observatory, Between the Buried and Me appeared on stage. Their demeanor completely shifted from what I saw just hours earlier, with a much more serious stage presence. Playing a majority of their older songs, I was much more familiar this time seeing them live compared to my last time a few years ago. Of the songs they played, one was off their “Alaska” album, two were off “The Parallax II,” three were off “Coma Ecliptic,” and the final two songs were the most widely known off their anthem “Colors.” Although their choice in songs were great, I was a little sad that they didn’t play anything off my personal favorite “The Great Misdirect.” I guess the songs are just too long on that album.

By this point, the crowd had started to shift more because of their energy, pushing and swaying side to side. I wasn’t able to see as well as the previous two sets, but was luckily right in front of Dustie Waring and occasionally Thomas Giles Rogers. They played with such passion, I could tell they started to loosen up as the set continued. Paul Waggoner on the other side started to show off his easygoing personality during his solos, while Thomas directed the crowd with his fiery presence. His voice is very interesting, with his ability to switch from growl to clean vocals. He even has different sub-styles for each style, switching from poppy to bluesy to jazzy sounding clean vocals. My friend mentioned earlier that one of his singing styles sounds like someone trying to sing with their tongue sticking out, which is a perfect description of it. The best example is the song “Famine Wolf” in the album “Coma Ecliptic,” a song that accurately portrays Thomas’s wide range of clean vocal styles. When their set finished, they reappeared moments later for their encore, containing the biggest surprise of the night.

What song did they play? “White Walls?” “Swim to the Moon?” No. “Bohemian Rhapsody.” It was interesting hearing their version of the classic Queen song, which I ended up enjoying very much. I was able to record a couple minutes of the song, which you can watch below:

The night was epic. After spending nearly seven hours at the venue, I had gathered enough swag, pictures, and memories that will last a lifetime. It is easily one of the best concerts I’ve been to in a long time, and possibly one of the best concerts I’ve ever been to period. It helped befriending a few VIP’ers before the show, which made the night even more fun. I want to thank you two for convincing me to stay down at the front (you know who you are). It made my night unforgettable.

If you want to check out the pictures I took of the concert, check out my photo album on my Facebook page.