Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Live Review: Animal Collective

May 20, 2007

The Granada

Lawrence, KS

OR, Everything I Learned About Animal Collective I Learned in Kindergarten

Thinking about “Sweet Road” in a recent Crayola commercial, I thought the 5/20 Animal Collective show could best be discussed through observations straight from the coloring book.

Lesson No. 1: “Sometimes it’s OK to color inside the lines.”

A fellow Animal Collective fan said of a Here Comes the Indian-era show, “They didn’t really play songs.” Avey Tare has said that at that time the band was improvising more and more, yet they were concerned about relying on improv in a live setting. Perhaps that is why, all of the chaotic chanting aside, the band relies on a more structured set these days. This structure in many ways seems to have worked its way into the new material as well.

Fans of 2002’s Here Comes the Indian or 2003’s Sung Tongs will see the band building on the more traditional songs found in 2005’s spectacular Feels. Often the band worked to balance the frenetic chaos of its trademark sound (chanting, tribal drums, etc.) with more typical song structures. Perhaps one song early in the show epitomized this tightrope act: we are greeted by three-to-four minutes of a traditional song arc, followed by several minutes of feverish, foot-stomping chants. On one track about a “girl with the flower in her hair,” Tare sings the wistful opening verse over minimalist backdrops. As he segues into the next verse, a wall of sound crackles over the lyrics, obscuring them. Still the framework remains, a spider web quivering under all the noise.

Thankfully, both Avey Tare and Panda Bear can sing. And, as one discovers when the sound is stripped down, their lyrics ain’t half bad, either. Bringing vocals to the foreground (a transition started with Feels) could be an intriguing move for the band. Of course, who’s to say they won’t pile on the reverb or other noise in post-production? (For those who still haven’t heard the acoustic version of “Flesh Canoe,” check it out. Alas, if only Avey Tare and Kria Brekkan had made an album of songs like this one, as opposed to Pullhair Rubeye.)

An aside: I would be remiss to discuss the show without commenting on the new material, as this new material constituted 90% of the concert. That said, this is Animal Collective we’re talking about. What I heard in concert may sound nothing like what makes it onto Strawberry Jam. Maybe the basic songs will stay the same, but they’ll layer more sounds/beats. Maybe they’ll sing the lyrics in a made-up language, a la Sigur Rós. Maybe they’ll play the album backwards.

Lesson No. 2: “Even if you don’t have a 164-pack with built-in sharpener, you can still create a masterpiece,” OR, “Even if your crayons aren’t sharpened, you can still make do.”

I expected a troupe the likes of Broken Social Scene to drag onstage, carrying any number of bongos and banjos and clothed in tribal garb. Instead, out walked Panda Bear in his Adidas shirt; Avey Tare in his sideways cap. At least the Geologist was wearing a light strapped to his head, which I’d like to think is more about achieving that whole “miner look” than for any practical purpose like, say, seeing the controls. Thankfully the crowd answered the Collective's calling. The girl with the paper mache Panda Bear head certainly proved her loyalty, not to mention the group at the front dressed as various animals and err, Lady Liberty?

But hey, these guys aren’t here for a costume party (no offense, Flaming Lips). They’re here to make some amazing music. And they don’t need anything but a drum and a keyboard and some electronic doohickies to do it.

Lesson No. 3: “You can always borrow someone else’s crayons if they have colors you don’t.”

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the night was the incorporation of electro/dance beats into the mix. That’s right: think Animal Collective Dance Party. During this part of the show many fans were scratching their heads, looking at one another in disbelief, and then promptly dancing like ecstasy-riddled fiends. During one song the Collective toyed with rhythm: the beat would draw you in and then fracture, leaving you thumping along to an unpredictable, yet infectious rhythm. Hey, many of us aren't the greatest dancers – now we have an excuse.

Minutes later I thought I’d wandered into an Islands show, as the band transitioned into a calypso-infused tune. I saw much hands-in-pockets, head bobbing, shuffling in place action that climaxed with a tribal dance song that I have a feeling will be my next “Purple Bottle.” All I can say is that the guy wearing the 80s sweatband probably never thought the accessory would be put to such good use.

Lesson No. 4: “Don’t act like you like my picture and then toss it aside.”

This final lesson may have little, or nothing, to do with Animal Collective. Still, it needs to be said. Whether it’s the band or the lights guy or the venue manager or whomever, the Granada has to stop blue balling its audiences when it comes to encores (read: Joanna Newsom’s 12/10/06 show). I completely respect an artist’s choice not to play an encore. I paid my $12 and got way more than my money’s worth. That said, I do not understand how someone could allow a crowd to cheer in the dark for ten minutes or more, only to turn the lights on after we’ve screamed ourselves hoarse? I admit that little part inside me wanted to believe that after the room cleared a bit, the Collective would return and say, “Now that it’s just us and all you REAL fans…” They didn’t, and that’s OK – but come on guys, do you have to be such teases?

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