Photos and words by Rez Avissar
Animal Collective for the first time seem content. With each record having its own distinct sonic palette as well as instrumentation, this band works in eras: a batch of song gets written, toured for months, recorded, released, and then comes back with a new sound and new set of songs. On every tour pre-Merriweather, the majority of material would be new to all ears. Mostly unreleased new material, Avey Tare once explained that the band began doing this because in their formative years they played mostly to the same friends and handful of faces in New York and wasn't content to play them the same stuff each time. This stuck with the band, and despite sometimes disappointing casual fans by not playing the "hits," it gave them ample opportunity to explore and flesh out new material (check out the (ongoing) development of a jam like "Fireworks" for instance). This has allowed fans to watch the songs grow and evolve, often changing names several times (...remember when Fireworks was called "Bottle Rocket?"). It also kept things very interesting, part of the reason Animal Collective's bootlegs get swapped so lovingly by fans.
But now, for the first time, there's no new batch, and the band isn't quite ready to move on yet. According to Avey, "we're not in a new place right now, and I feel like it took a little bit of work to bring us to this point. I think we have a lot of thinking or planning to do to think about, or take the step into, the next direction, whatever that is."
There actually is some brand new material being played on this tour, a three minute gem that goes by the working title "Bleed," written last week, which continues Panda's odyssey of Caribbean gold digging, just back and forth vocal interplay over a bed of washy noise and instrumentation so sparse it's hardly there at all. It's quick — some I heard from even mistook it for a between-song interlude — but it again finds them stroking just the right melodic nerve amidst the weirdness. The other new song played was the Grateful Dead-sampling Merriweather outtake "What Would I Want Sky."
Another change is the band's new way of not only bringing back songs from their back catalogue, but completely reworking them. With guitarist Deakin taking a leave and radically different gear being used each album/era, plus drawing influence from a well-documented adoration for Daft Punk's mega-mix of a concert (my hunch), Animal Collective began to bring back more of their past songs, stretching, molding and adapting them to the time's sound and setup. They opened the show with their epic reworking of "Chocolate Girl," a standout from their almost-decade-old first record, Spirit They're Gone, Spirit They've Vanished, a proper starting point. The list of tracks they've revamped/remixed between this tour and last reads like a greatest hits collection and their re-workings are almost always hit, not miss (I myself am not too big on the snail-paced new "Winters Love," (although the original is one of my favorites of all time), but I find the snailed-out "Banshee Beat" totally stunning and sublime). That and their amazing hip-hop reworking of "Who Could Win A Rabbit" were both sorely missing tonight, but you can stream them at the NPR show linked below.
Other standouts included their sing-along, "My Girls," evergreen banger "Summertime Clothes," ANOTHER added section to the guitar jam now in the middle of "Fireworks," a piercing "What Would I Want Sky," and "Brother Sport," which tore the place down and sent everyone home on a rather breathless note. To those of you who, like me, are wondering why they have never played Merriweather standout "Bluish" in the live, Panda Bear recently explained to a fan why: for no reason more than that they lost the cable of the machine holding the samples. On the upside, they plan to begin playing it out this summer. Rejoice!
It seems the band is plagued by poor venue selection here in New York; they always seem to kill at Bowery Ballroom, which they have vocalized their liking for, but they've outgrown that size venue (although they like to treat fans to some intimate one-offs). They have tried on Webster Hall, Grand Ballroom and now Terminal 5, but none seem to fit. Here's to hoping they find a more inspired venue that can both house their swelled-up and growing fanbase (it was PACKED tonight) and also not suck. Perhaps this played a part, but I've noticed that their moods seem to be reflected by the quality of their between-song interludes, another thing that adds a whole other dimension to their show. Tonight, it seemed that this gig was not one they were exactly going all-out for. Obviously they have no trouble delivering their goods live, but it seemed like tonight was an average effort by the band. Everything sounded good though, and they're visibly comfortable now, commanding and owning the stage and their sound. By now in their current era they have a lengthy list of songs to choose from [to play], and finally are giving themselves the set length that gives their songs the space they need and deserve (almost 2 hours).
Since experiencing Feels live in early 05 (yes, before its release), I've seen these guys many times, and unlike far too many bands, whenever new dates are announced it remains a consistently appealing experience as I know I'm in for something new. I can't fault them for doing what's actually standard by playing past and recently-released material, but the selfish id in me just really wants to hear more new stuff. (Still haven't heard the new box set). Regardless, the guys have really mastered their game, so let them have their victory spliff: it's live AC and it rules.
Listen to their full performance from May 11th's DC show HERE.
May 13, Terminal 5 Set List
What Would I Want Sky
Comfy in Nautica
Lion In A Coma
Grouper was the opener. I had seen pictures and videos, though never close up, but I honestly had thought that in no way could a voice as haunting/chilling/beautiful come out of something so haunting/chilling/beautiful. Now that I think about it, it kind of makes sense, right? But also she sounds many years older than she looks.
The music was as the photos may suggest — (here come the adjectives) dreamy, flowing, hypnotic, glowing? The songs were long and drawn-out, deceptively suggesting formlessness. As far as I know she strayed from her well-known material, as I didn't recognize anything, not even the spellbinding "Heavy Water/I'd Rather Be Sleeping" (update: some have mentioned that she did play that at the end. I remember hearing that guitar progression and listening intently for the melody, but the vocal was wayy different this time). Also, check out her eyes and expression in the pics — in some she looks positively entranced/possessed. Thankfully, the audience was respectful and quiet, as this is really the kind of set that can be ruined by some impatient shmuck's remarks (exactly what happened to Tickley Feather when I saw her open for them). Many didn't like it as it certainly wasn't for everybody, but if you are the type to enjoy this kind of music, chances are you could appreciate her performance.