WORDS BY BRADY IRWIN
PHOTOS BY NICOLE SMITH-WALKER
The road to Plini was long and arduous. No, seriously – the line felt a mile long and people teetered precariously on pavement around the corner, outside The Corner. All would be well worth the wait, however, as punters were treated to a delicious smorgasbord of progressive rock antics that were nothing short of jaw-dropping.
Easing us in from the blistering cold and jam-packed lines was Serbian nice-guy David Maxim Micic. Like his studio material, much of his set centred around the clever use of ambience and clearly-grounded but complex riffs. Open ethereal passages of synth washed over us as he deftly weaved in fills, licks and arpeggios in between bars that were so short, they almost escaped conscious awareness. This clever interplay between ambience, tight, staccato (some might say the dreaded ‘djent’ word) riffage and rapid but soulful licks was equally appreciated by crowd and the ever-grinning hooded frontman, who was as adoring of his fans as he was of his back-up rhythm section. It’s worth noting that the incredibly talented and tight Simon Grove and Chris Allison of Helix Nebula were backing all three artists tonight and were insanely, impeccably-timed and groove-laden, and boy was Micic insistent on the crowd showing them some love too. Finishing up with some epic solos from himself and session guitarist Jake Howsam Lowe, Micic was sure to bookend a sombre set with a truly energetic display of guitar wizardry.
After this nice prog warm-up and a brief interlude, we were smacked with the complete opposite end of the polyrhythmic prog stick – Javier Reyes of Animals As Leaders immediately showcasing the subterranean downtuned tour-de-force that is his side project Mestis. Where Micic used ambience, Javier was front-and centre with a beastly 8-string that had a depth and clank of tone that would make most bassists envious. Gliding through impeccably tight and complex technical riffs, Javier was quick to contrast this with beautiful, complex chords, arpeggios and runs using finger technique that appeared more like a man playing two harps than a single guitar. Reyes’ dry humour didn’t land all the time with the omnipresent introversion of guitar-god prog crowds, but that didn’t faze him one bit. Swaying, eyes closed, bobbing towards his rhythm section partners, the insatiably diverse player was truly equally enraptured as the crowd, who responded with huge applause to interesting segues such as his slap-bass-flamenco-hybrid sections and planet shatteringly heavy low-end breakdowns.
Inviting Lowe back onstage for another blistering solo appearance, the man was all jokes, smiles and love for the audience and each of the players. Closing off his set with some magnificent classically-inspired fretwork, yours truly is sure there were some bottom jaws needing to be picked up off the floor following that set.
That wouldn’t be helped, however, as the room collectively bottomed out their jaws, minds imploding as one from the opening salvo onwards of Plini’s gorgeously and intricately-crafted headliner set.
Truly, an entire review dedicated to his set alone cannot and will not do justice to the amazing experience that is a Plini show. The young man is up there with the greats of the guitar world such as Steve Vai – not just because he can flourish across the fretboard in an intricate dance of blistering fretwork, but because of the myriad of interesting muting, harmonics, diverse chords and turn-on-a-coin juxtaposition between the clean, prog-laden blues-land, Van Halen worship and dense metal riffage.
An interesting and hilarious addition to the experience was the guys’ increased use of audience participation, including a sharpened sense of banter counter-attacks, generous frontman self-deprecation, making the audience hum certain notes (“We sound like we’re in a cult, guys”) and co-creating a breakdown riff for sound-guy Lee (“LEE! LEE! LEE!”). It’s clear the young man is starting to hone his inner Devin Townsend, becoming at-home with firing back at us with as many quips as riffs and making us feel part of the experience. This is, of course, in addition to his usual happy demeanour and jovial expressions towards the crowd, a man truly appreciative of all his fans and bandmates aside and before him.
And what an experience, seriously. Trading off drum and bass solos, subtle use of synthesiser and samples, his own diverse notebook of solo styles, riffs and chords so intricate they’d make spiders dizzy and note-precision polyrhythm dynamics, there really is something so idiosyncratic about Plini and his band that it is completely intangible. Transcending mere guitar-hero dynamics or even the complexity of genres such as djent, prog and the like, his show is a master-class in perfection in guitar craft. The sheer amount of subtle muting, harmonics and other clever adjuncts are a veritable feast for musicians able to catch them; to those just there for the sounds, these intricate supplements served as an interconnecting melodic and percussive web, soaking the set in so many more layers than your usual shred-fest. Interspersed in all his glory, he spent most of the set looking at us or his bandmates, giving them plenty of time to shine with their intimidatingly-epic bass and drum solos.
Rounding off the show with a beautiful jam including all players from the night, with three guitarists onstage in a giant Guitar Hero crescendo, Micic jumping on drums and the (hilariously-announced) encore, there was a warmth, vibrancy and genuine sense of inclusion and compassion radiating from the stoically happy good-guy guitar wizard. If you missed Plini this time, do yourself a favour. Treat yourself not just to a show, but to a progressive rock experience from one of the greatest guitarists in Australia (if not the world) for an intimately powerful night you’ll surely not forget any time soon.
DAVID MAXIM MICIC