David Bowie once described the Pixies as a sort of psychotic Beatles. He never gave a clear reason why, but it was accurate for the band smeared their keen pop sensibilities with vicious screaming and vivid images of sliced out eyeballs, mermaided caribbean seas, and monkeys ascending to heaven. Brilliant.
You could describe Animal Collective in similar terms and be far from wrong. The group revolves around two de-facto leaders, Avey Tare and Panda Bear, that each bring unique textures into a cohesive mixture. They take sunny golden age pop melodies and soak them in layers upon layers of experimentalism and repetition, making their music tinker on the edge between familiar and strange, accessible and inscrutable. Their songs can sound like rustic campfire sing-alongs and cranky nursery rhymes of childhood to stoned folklore or swirly psychedelic journeys and their catalogue travels the world. With nomadic steps, it begins on the California coast, paying homage to the Wilson Brothers and surfing through its crashing waves, makes stops in the Appalachian backwoods, the rainforests of South America and the tropical beach lands of Spain, and winds up in West Africa lost in the primitive rituals of drum circles and tribal dances. It really is true that the only time these guys repeat themselves is within the space of a song itself. And like the Pixies, well, they scream a lot. And Loudly.
Now none of this is anything that hasn’t been said before, but in a live setting it’s all magnified and expanded and it’s where I realized, for the first time, that Panda and Avey are reminiscent of a modern and mechanized Lennon and McCartney. These two are just tripping out on a lot harder drugs. The question I kept thinking about as I blissfully stood and watched Animal Collective plow through a set that lasted nearly two breakless hours was: which one is which? I still haven’t decided, but the answer is trivial. What makes Animal Collective special and their live show entrancing is not the clear cut distinct qualities of its two principle characters, but rather the blending together of their voices and sounds and even the songs themselves to create a flow that is as harmonious as it is mysterious, confusing and indecipherable. With Avey and Panda, a strong chemistry exists but it’s atypical: instead of two separate entities standing side by side and feeding off of one another, these two seemed to melt into each other, blurring the lines of individuality and entering into the beyond. A trippy place.
Throughout the night, Panda’s and Avey’s voices ricocheted off of one another with breathing cadence in a call and response, animalistic formation, crossing paths so frequently to the point where they were almost indistinguishable. As one’s phrases dripped into the other’s, the only way I could tell who was saying what was by looking closely at their mouths as they contorted them (this was a fun sight). The group started off with “Lying in The Grass”, a single off of their latest record, Painting With. The song began as swells of loops and drum patterns and slowly evolved into the actually melody that we all recognized and loved. This formula of taking exotic, unrecognizable rhythms and beats and turning them into wholesome songs was a pattern that stuck with the band as the night went on, leaving the audience with a strong sense of mystery, as we never knew where the sounds were heading, followed by discovery and childlike joy once they reached their destinations: the form of song.
And these songs themselves felt as though they were all stitched together on a mystic roller coaster ride as each stemmed from its predecessor and seamlessly meandered into the one that followed. The ceaseless flow of the set, the melodic twists and turns and the constant colliding of sounds seemed to loop both the band and the audience into a swirling, hippy like trance, making it clear that Animal Collective views music from the perspective of wanderers or journeyers. The songs had no clear shape or form, no definitive beginning or end, which provided them and us with freedom. As we (the crowd) realized we would never know what the band’s sonic explorations would turn into, we surrendered and strapped in to the amorphous sound, which, to me at least, felt both liberating and inspirational to be a part of.
As I watched two men who reminded me of Paul and John, I heard resonant, crashing sounds that took me to tie-died worlds of The Grateful Dead and european discotheques with luscious dance mixes at the same odd time as Animal Collective merged their many inspirations into a whirlpool of abstract textures. The band mostly played deep cuts off of Painting With which were met with welcomed unfamiliarity by the crowd. However, when more widely known pieces like “Floridada”, “Daily Routine” and “Loch Raven” took shape out of the long and winding jam, the venue trembled and undulated as the crowd bounced and waved and bobbed and clapped, triumphantly singing along with their hands stretched to the dark sky. Everyone just seemed ecstatic to be there and time felt like it stood still as we were all lost in sounds that transcended it.
That was the thing about this concert: the music evoked both spiritual meditation and outward celebration. I wanted to close my eyes and experience my surroundings simultaneously. And while this was impossible, both actions transported me to kaleidoscopic worlds of orange, red and green. When I shut my eyes, the music was a travelogue to a fantasy land, to places of my imagination, and when I opened them it was no different. The drooling, swirling crowd and the elaborate lighting and stage design all felt like something out of a technicolor dream…
Animal Collective has always been known for their gesamtkunstwerk (total artwork), in which everything from album art to stage design to lighting and background all resonate beautifully together. This show was no different as each member was uniformly dressed in all white as though they were reflecting the rainbow shades of light that overflowed the venue with brightness and psychedelic shades. A perfect accompaniment to the crayoned sounds. Similarly, three colossal Picasso-esque figurines occupied the stage in a towering manner, all over a backdrop that consisted of imaged clay and squiggly colorful lines. This is why, despite the trance inducing state of the sounds, I kept my eyes wide open for the majority of the night.
Despite the fact that Animal Collective’s performance style is similar to that of electronic DJ’s and the Grateful Dead and that the bands two principle mammals remind me of The Beatles, as I watched them, I realized they probably wont be remembered like any of those artists. As time passes, their legacy will probably be viewed more similarly to bands like The Velvet Underground or even the Pixies themselves: more influential and important than the numbers will tell you, a band that drew crowds rather than reached for them. Pioneers. Hours before the doors even opened, a sea of devoted fans formed outside of the venue, extending for blocks. The show was 18+ so I saw many young kids, who had preemptively purchased tickets due to their admiration of the band, cling on to total strangers, asking if they would pretend to be their legal guardians for the night just so they could see these guys play. Animal Collective has resonated monumentally with many of us and it was nice to physically see this.
As the band moved through their endless, breakless set, they rarely, if at all, spoke to the audience. However, when they did exit their own worlds and enter into ours, it felt special. In the middle of the show, Avey Tare made a point to tell us that their was a full moon in the night’s sky. The whole crowd screamed at this. He then went on to discuss the moon’s fullness as a symbol of wholeness and unity saying “we are all together”. The energy and admiration from the crowd at this point was both untamable and inspiring. It only intensified as the full mooned night went on.
Psychedelic Pop / Experimental / Electronic | Domino Records