One look around the room at an Animal Collective show and it’s clear that every person falls into one of two categories. Half of the crowd has already experienced a night with the Animals and left forever changed. The other half is hoping to join the converted. It’s impossible to predict what will happen when attending a AC show, but the one guarantee that any of the initiated can pass along to the newbies is that there will be no “For Reverend Green” tonight.
Despite being the catchiest song from the band’s most recent release, Strawberry Jam, and the fact that the band is pushing Reverend Green t-shirts at their merch table, it just ain’t gonna happen. The seasoned Animal Collective fan is aware that every song from Jam has been played on the road for the past two years and that the majority of tonight’s set will be comprised of songs from the band’s next, untitled, album—songs that are entirely new, even to the seasoned vet.
Seeing a band like this play live is like catching a practice. They’re working things out before their audience’s eyes, taking the skeleton of an idea and putting muscles behind it. Much like a campfire sing-along, nothing is quite ever perfect; still, it always feels better to be part of the circle than it does to be on the outside. That said, the band is not performing at full capacity—Deakin decided to sit this tour out—and the boys made a conscious decision to leave all of the guitars at home. To add gasoline to the potential fire, the only thing that anyone in the crowd is discussing before the band hits the stage is last night’s ugly performance (uh oh!).
After the first Webster show a night earlier, bloggers ran home to their laptops excited to tear into the band. Many complained about the volume of the bass, that singer Avey Tare quit halfway through a couple of songs, and that the band didn’t play a lot of tracks from their new album. Even though New Yorkers love railing on a band for an occasional miscue, it’s clear that everyone in the house tonight is rooting for them, hoping they’ll rise to the occasion on what will be their last North American show on the tour. And there’s no reason that can’t happen: good or bad, Animal Collective has never been known to play the same show twice.
Within ten minutes it becomes abundantly clear that nobody will be asking for their money back tonight. The crowd’s appeasement is made evident during a bombastic version of the cartoon-esque “Peacebone”. A carnival-like melody busts through the crowd, and the floorboards begin to shake under the weight of a jumping room as fans giddily cheer along to the story of monsters in a maze, fisherman, and bowls of broccoli.
“Material Things” (previously titled “House”) has become one of my favorite Animal Collective songs and has been stuck in my head and dreams since I saw the band perform it last May. Panda Bear takes the lead on the mic with his humble admission: “Is it much to admit I need/ A solid soul and the blood I bleed?”. Slowly, Avey comes in, repeating Panda’s words and reinforcing the mantra as the chorus rings in: “I don’t mean to seem like I care about material things/ like a social status/ I just want four walls and adobe slabs for the girl.” Avey periodically turns, pounding a snare drum with a single stick while yelping like a petulant child who has no plans to sleep during nap time. No other song better showcases the talents of the band’s two leading men. This is a group known for manipulating sound samples, yet their greatest strength is an ability to play off of one another’s vocal delivery, forming a co-dependent reverb in a dreamlike cocoon.
The musical maturity of the band is exemplified blissfully during an extended performance of “Fireworks”. For years Animal Collective was mistreated and tossed conveniently in the bin of “noise rock”, but a track like this makes those sitting at the grown-up table take notice. The song tackles the inevitability of growing up and accepting responsibilities, embracing these changes rather than running away from them. Halfway through the song, the band segues into a beautiful new tune called “Essplode” with such ease that most of us in the crowd assume Avey is simply improvising the remainder of the lyrics to “Fireworks”. The song has a simple chord progression cushioned with shooting-star-style lasers. Avey Tare’s croons, meanwhile, are clear as crystal—it’s the first time most in the room have ever heard him sing without effects.
So much emphasis and criticism is placed on Avey’s unorthodox delivery. He may not have the most original or sultry voice, but that’s beside the point. Show me a leading man out there with the range to jump with such ease from one interval to the next without breaking for a single breath. And, not to take anything away from the multi-talented Panda Bear, but Animal Collective is and always will be an Avey Tare showcase. Watch him during “Grace”—his body contorts as he flexes into a question mark—or the intensity of his trademark meltdowns of incoherent screams. While some may look at his childlike temper tantrums as a form of laziness or some sort of shortcut, this spillover of emotion gives his delivery an unquestionable authenticity. He isn’t trying to make a scene as much as a confession, and, even if few can understand the words within his screams, he’s definitely got something to say.
After almost two hours, the show starts to wind down. Earlier in the evening Avey makes it a point to apologize for the “bad vibes” he was picking up on from the crowd in regard to the previous night’s show. By the time the shaking percussion of “Derek” comes bleeding through the speakers, the crowd is exhausted. Still, Avey continues to press. “Sorry when I get unruly/ when you carry on so much I get a little tired,” Avey muses, finding only smiles on the faces of his crowd. Looks like the blogs will be buzzing with good vibes tonight.