“Who wants violence? Raise your hands,” sang Kevin Higginbotham of Athens v. Sparta to a medium-sized crowd in San Antone Café. The song, “Mytilene Debate,” details a chapter in the Peloponnesian War, where the Athenian government voted to kill all the male citizens on the island of Lesbos. Bear in mind, only a portion of Lesbos’ citizens actually took part in a mutiny against Athens, but the vote ordered the death of all adult males and the enslavement of all women and children. A day after the government’s order, the Athenian citizenry came off the anger high and managed to prevent the massacre. Being a cautionary tale of political violence, it was no surprise that Higginbotham prefaced the tune by ceremoniously kneeling before his microphone, taking a pull from his Sierra Nevada and rising to say, “This next one is for Representative Giffords.” Suck on that, Zack Snyder.
The product of four years of research and composition, AVS is an edutainment band that puts the story of the Peloponnesian War to prog. Guitarist Charlie Roadman led his septet through an atmospheric rock odyssey (mostly) worthy of the war’s legacy. Nearly all of AVS wore black clothing and masks associated with classic Greek drama. Many songs were mid-tempo and mannered, emphasizing tone color, atmosphere, and dynamics over the nerd metal one would expect from the same source material as the movie 300. AVS are a macabre rock troop, underscored by Higginbotham’s hammy, boho dance steps and pseudo conductor gestures. He filled the shoes of a Greek Chorus, singing ably between narrator Ken Webster’s monologues. Webster, representing historian Thucydides, read with melancholic mysticism falling somewhere between Patrick Stewart and Clint Eastwood. The walls of San Antone Café responded well to AVS’s sprawling somber cinematic sound.
This was historical theatre done well: relevant, mature, and un-pornographic, elevated by the band’s chemistry. If there was any flaw, it was that AVS’s rock might be too respectful. Frequently, guitarist Creston Funk seemed about to explode into something maniacal, but never did. Drummer Jamie Roadman displayed a technical mastery, but his digital kit came off as calculating, not visceral. Many songs ended as they just seemed to be taking off. This was a 27-year war with an incalculable death toll and unparalleled historical relevance. AVS doesn’t beg for the mook stupidity of 300, but could benefit from making us just a bit more uncomfortable.