Guitarist Matt Vela’s T-shirt says “Pink Floyd,” but AoD’s extended off-kilter jazz rhythm and low-end-dominant passages scream Yes. Similar influences could be name-checked all night after Vela proclaims “Let’s do this” and Chris Hamner’s slapped bassline sets in, but no combination would quite nail it. The brand of prog-rock AoD plays is lyricless and leaderless, and considering all the ice-show ego trips and countertenor crooning about wizards and Atlantis and shit that eventually made the genre such a joke the first time through, that seems ideal.
Live, Vela’s fast finger work and mane of sweaty black hair make him an obvious focal point, and Tonic’s stage elevates drummer Roy Buqour Hernandez’s kit high enough that his deranged and frenzied stick work is on full display, but the songs themselves are harder to process. “Ghost Dance” is an abrasive shard of noise rock that escalates in abstraction as it creates and then completely ignores its own parallel-dimension rhythm rules. That is, except for when it’s an upbeat funk number, which it becomes sporadically for about 30 seconds at a time. The audience, unsure whether to bang their heads or shake their asses, are mostly snapping photographs on digital cameras.
Instrumental hooks are hard to land, and AoD, whose songs establish short themes and then make half-hearted attempts to return to them amid long interludes that feel suspiciously like adlibbed jamming, doesn’t seem to be aiming for easy accessibility. Complexity and, appropriately, dissonance are the band’s dominant traits — the tension between the individual instruments becomes so overbearing it sounds like musical infighting. Without those grandiose high-pitched vocals to engage the non-musicians in the crowd, AoD’s technically impressive prog often sounds aggressively complicated and intimidatingly inhuman, like robots playing classical music with laser guns.