Panda Bear's Last Night at the Regency

Publicity photo via Bandcamp

Panda Bear's show is truly a vocal performance backed by pulsating electronica with his latest, Buoys, as the primary source for much of the set.

Panda Bear


Of all the leading artists on the circuit right now who are enhancing the live electronic music experience -- an effort led by the likes of Daft Punk's Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter, Flying Lotus, and David Tipper -- Panda Bear remains distinguished simply due to his voice. Noah Lennox is foremost a singer.

His vocals, sometimes done in chant and often centered on melody, are the presiding instrument over his psychedelic production of digital recordings, samples and beats. It's the special element when observing him on stage, establishing a sense of musical legitimacy in this complicated arena of electronic, pre-recorded sounds that is so often discredited due to the challenge of on-stage adaptability and authentic musicianship.

During his recent stop in San Francisco at the neoclassical Regency Ballroom, where the blonde hardwood floor was comfortably filled with a predominately millennial fanbase, the Animal Collective co-frontman's vocals were delivered with resounding lucidity. Either performed without effects or when morphed through pitch correction, reverb and delays, a Panda Bear set is truly a vocal performance backed by pulsating electronica and surrounded in visual projections of curious images.

The opening act was the voiceless duo Flaccid Mojo, contemporaries of Animal Collective who've supported them on their recent Tangerine Reef tour. Comprised of Black Dice members Bjorn Copeland and Aaron Warren, Flaccid Mojo produced abrasive beats with melodic squeaks. The intensity of the music was matched with visuals of oddball sexual situations; the most striking being the clip of an obese man receiving a lap dance from a scantily clad young woman recalling to mind Jabba's Palace from Return of the Jedi. This combination alluded to a new style of music: BDSM EDM.

Optical guru Danny Perez was the man behind the crowd, behind the projections. A fellow Animal Collective alum -- he was a major collaborator behind their 2010 visual album ODDSAC -- Perez's range was on full view when Panda Bear appeared and the visuals relaxed into more languid tones.

This San Franciscan appearance was in support of Buoys, Panda Bear's excellent sixth solo LP that: pays homage to his past (songs built around acoustic guitar à la AC's Sung Tongs), reiterates his affection for aquatic nature and, of course, showcases his ability to create a chorus of himself through layers of vocals. Water, primarily its sonic effects, is a guiding aesthetic on Buoys with several songs featuring sounds that resemble repeating drops of liquid. Truly only Panda Bear could turn a leaky faucet into art.

He opened his set with "Home Free", the album's finale that features the album's repeated motif of reverberating guitar chords, but on stage there was an absence of a physical guitar. Perhaps the only strike against this otherwise impressive set, the lack of analog instrumentation was of brief disappointment. But when considering the methods in which he could have translated Buoys into a live setting, the use of a guitar seems impractical. When touring behind other records such as 2011's Tomboy, Panda Bear explained how the energy he saw in a Nirvana performance encouraged him to begin performing with an electric guitar in hand⎯but Buoys is a different beast. The complex rendering of a guitar baked in reverb combined with real-time vocal manipulation and sampling could only work if Noah sprouted a couple of new arms.

Buoys and the vinyl-only EP A Day With the Homies were the primary source material for much of the set list but fan favorite "Comfy in Nautica" was included and slightly revamped to match the buoyancy of Panda Bear's current direction. The set flowed together smoothly and even when his control system temporarily blew out, the momentary silence was a soothing reprieve.

After earning an encore, Panda Bear returned with the yet-to-be-released "Playing the Long Game" and finished with "Last Night at the Jetty", a standout from Tomboy, that builds to a triumphant catharsis where he sings "I know I know" in repetition.

His vocals grew gradually, soaring to the height of the ballroom before gracefully subsiding, like boats against the current, disappearing ceaselessly into the wake.





90 Years on 'Olivia' Remains a Classic of Lesbian Literature

It's good that we have our happy LGBTQ stories today, but it's also important to appreciate and understand the daunting depths of feeling that a love repressed can produce. In Dorothy Strachey's case, it produced the masterful Olivia.


Indie Rocker Alpha Cat Presents 'Live at Vox Pop' (album stream)

A raw live set from Brooklyn in the summer of 2005 found Alpha Cat returning to the stage after personal tumult. Sales benefit organizations seeking to end discrimination toward those seeking help with mental health issues.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

A Lesson from the Avengers for Our Time of COVID-19

Whereas the heroes in Avengers: Endgame stew for five years, our grief has barely taken us to the after-credit sequence. Someone page Captain Marvel, please.


Between the Grooves of Nirvana's 'Nevermind'

Our writers undertake a track-by-track analysis of the most celebrated album of the 1990s: Nirvana's Nevermind. From the surprise hit that brought grunge to the masses, to the hidden cacophonous noise-fest that may not even be on your copy of the record, it's all here.


Deeper Graves Arrives via 'Open Roads' (album stream)

Chrome Waves, ex-Nachtmystium man Jeff Wilson offers up solo debut, Open Roads, featuring dark and remarkable sounds in tune with Sisters of Mercy and Bauhaus.

Featured: Top of Home Page

The 50 Best Albums of 2020 So Far

Even in the coronavirus-shortened record release schedule of 2020, the year has offered a mountainous feast of sublime music. The 50 best albums of 2020 so far are an eclectic and increasingly "woke" bunch.


First Tragedy, Then Farce, Then What?

Riffing off Marx's riff on Hegel on history, art historian and critic Hal Foster contemplates political culture and cultural politics in the age of Donald Trump in What Comes After Farce?


HAIM Create Their Best Album with 'Women in Music Pt. III'

On Women in Music Pt. III, HAIM are done pretending and ready to be themselves. By learning to embrace the power in their weakest points, the group have created their best work to date.


Amnesia Scanner's 'Tearless' Aesthetically Maps the Failing Anthropocene

Amnesia Scanner's Tearless aesthetically maps the failing Anthropocene through its globally connected features and experimental mesh of deconstructed club, reggaeton, and metalcore.


How Lasting Is the Legacy of the Live 8 Charity Concert?

A voyage to the bottom of a T-shirt drawer prompts a look back at a major event in the history of celebrity charity concerts, 2005's Live 8, Philadelphia.


Jessie Ware Embraces Her Club Culture Roots on Rapturous 'What's Your Pleasure?'

British diva Jessie Ware cooks up a glittery collection of hedonistic disco tracks and delivers one of the year's best records with What's Your Pleasure.


Paul Weller Dazzles with the Psychedelic and Soulful 'On Sunset'

Paul Weller's On Sunset continues his recent streak of experimental yet tuneful masterworks. More than 40 years into his musical career, Weller sounds as fresh and inspired as ever.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.