Animal Corrective Come Collect

On Wednesday (24.10.07) at the Cabaret Sauvage here in Paris, Animal Collective delivered the best non-notational concert I’ve ever attended– at least musically. I’ve been disappointed twice before by the group, although those shows were over two years ago and with a different line-up. They tour in various incarnations, and Wednesday’s show featured Geologist behind the mixing console, Panda Bear on synthesizers, and Avey Tare with microphone, although each performer’s sonic duties are fluid and many. The Animal Collective live show is notorious for being meandering, monotonous, and largely void of both their released material (at least in any familiar form) and the more user-friendly sound cultivated on their albums since 2004’s excellent Sung Tongs.

It came as a surprise, then, that Wednesday night’s two-hour plus set featured almost every track from their new album, Strawberry Jam, which began for me as a disappointment but has since revealed itself to be among their best releases (and has retroactively exposed 2005’s expansive Feels as somewhat of a yawn). They began with SJ‘s standout track “#1,”a song I have listened to 29 times according to iTunes (and which can be viewed live on Conan here), and then alternately lurched, shrieked, pounded, and twiddled their way through a manic medley of old favorites, melismatic interludes, and new material from what will likely be the best album of the next decade if its impact survives the transfer from stage to studio.

Their live method resembles jazz in its transience, where familiar melodies dissolve into kindred improvisations before emerging (to applause) as their latest single. Unlike jazz, however, there is no clear frontman. Although Avey Tare and Panda Bear perform most of the vocals, the thankful lack of stage banter, a lighting design that privileges the music over the musician, and a palpable ensemble energy all coalesce to reinforce the group’s image as a genuine collective.

The highlight of the show was a retooled “Leaf House,” (available here with inferior, festival acoustics; original studio version here) which maintained the tribal punch of the original, but added a shimmering, sylvan heave whose effect on me can be best represented as
and which I rank alongside an elaborate cadenza emitted by a malfunctioning subway intercom as one of the most hypnotic, beautiful sounds I’ve ever heard. They managed something similar with “Who Could Win a Rabbit,” at one point creating a drone seemingly lifted from the prelude of Wagner’s Rheingold. Animal Collective have an immense sonic palette; I can think of few other groups with a range that can produce with the same deftness both the Arcadian minimalism of 2003’s Campfire Songs and the warped avant-pop to which the majority of Wednesday was devoted. (Scott Walker comes to mind.)

They aren’t the only band touring now with an unorthodox approach to live performance. The Fiery Furnaces attempt something similar, compacting their wandering album tracks into an unrelenting, barking barrage that, despite its precision, betrays the refinement of Matt Friedberger’s compositions and sister Eleanor’s voice. The Furnaces are likely trying to compensate for a sound that is prohibitively complex to recreate on stage. Animal Collective’s subtlety is likewise compromised outside the studio (here Panda Bear mentions tracks that contain over 50 samples), but instead of mutilating their aesthetic to make it portable they turn the challenges of the road into opportunities to revisit the old and renovate the new. (To be fair, the Furnaces show features minimal prerecorded music and significantly more traditional instruments.)

After the concert I had the chance (thanks to my particularly branchée girlfriend) to meet Avey Tare and Panda Bear (Dave and Noah, respectively). In a scene where artistry is often subject to artifice, passion to pretense, it was refreshing to meet musicians that seemed genuinely eager to evaluate their performance with an audience member. I couldn’t help gushing that it had been not only the best show I’d seen them give, but among the best concerts I’ve attended, period.

I stopped short of promoting my forthcoming blog review, however. After all, you have to maintain some cred.

[If you’re new to the band, get up to populist speed here.]

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~ by ohkrapp on October 26, 2007.

4 Responses to “Animal Corrective Come Collect”

  1. Very nice work. That was an enjoyable review to read. I look forward to seeing Animal Collective someday. Mitchell loves them. My skin hurts.

  2. Lovely analysis, Greg! Was the Kimmel show really that bad? Or so forgettable that I can’t even remember it well?

  3. thanks, sarah! actually, i never saw the, at nyu :(

    i think both previous times were at the knitting factory.

  4. […] decided to start a blog after being particularly moved by an Animal Collective concert. A year and one hundred posts later, Krapp’s Last Blog is now… well, pretty much the […]

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