Psych-rock newcomers Post Animal brought their distinctive brand of prog influenced experimentation to Soda Bar for the first time on Monday, July 24.

The Chicago-based group of lovable goofs turned virtuosos was down a member on the second date of their West Coast tour (their lineup usually features actor Joe Keery from “Stranger Things”), but their first San Diego headlining show still felt larger than life. A relentlessly intricate set of ruinous jams old and new shook the Soda Bar to its core, testing the fortitude of each concertgoer’s gray matter.

Openers FEMNY provided terse synth-pop and post-punk songs that leaned towards dark emotional territory, while Levitation Room got the crowd going with energetic, sincere blues and garage rock that went straight for the jugular. Both bands set the stage for Post Animal’s musical fireworks with a tried-and-true formula for honest connection: unguarded, emotional lyrics.

Where Post Animal’s slick recorded output delivers heady jams that transport the listener straight to the celestial realm, their live set creates a much more visceral, hard-rock and progressive-centric experience ripe with headbang-worthy riffs. From the very first howling, drawn-out note of guitar feedback, I knew I was in for something truly special. A young band that can command even its most abstract material through mastery of effects and unconscious temporal coordination is rare but these performers proved themselves up to the task and then some; toying with the fabric of their arrangements even when on a musical tightrope, then speeding back into another shred-tastic peak in seamless fashion. Talk about being in mid-tour form!

Drummer Wes Toledo simply demolished his kit in a display of pure catharsis; raw energy filtered through a sense of consummate musicianship and pacing that produced a backbone for every dynamic peak. His talent was deftly matched by the trio of guitarists that lined the stage, each of whom took turns providing face-melting licks that gave way to four-part harmonies and unified noise explorations–anything and everything a proper rock show should have. Popular single “When I Get Home” was a late-set highlight; a silky pop tune complete with a deadly psychedelic assault of an outro. Elsewhere, “You Were Not There” struck a perfect balance between chaos and competence, working the energy of the crowd into a headbanging frenzy by way of crushing distortion and intricate guitar harmonies.

Where many psych-garage bands in recent years have come to rely on predictable tropes (surf rock influenced guitar tones, vocals drowned in slapback delay, clichéd yelps, and squeals), Post Animal favors an eclectic approach all their own, morphing between song sections, tones, and styles with amoebic ease and holding back their sledgehammer riffs for just the right moment.

By: Dennis Moon