A band as unique, brash, and uncompromising as the Animal Collective has no problem carrying those same traits over into a startling live show. The band’s mix of pop and noise live perfectly captures their natural, child-like enthusiasm for sound in all its forms, and lets the audience feel as if they’re experiencing music for the first time.
On the current tour, the band brought along three of its four members: Avey Tare, Panda Bear, Deakin and Geologist, piling the stage with keyboards and samplers. Avey Tare did most of the singing in his oddly tuneful voice, while Panda Bear countered with an ethereal falsetto, looping them to create a floating melody over pounding drums or glitchy electronic sounds from Geologist.
At this performance, they played a batch of songs from their new album, Strawberry Jam, which will be released in September of this year. Unlike 2004’s organic Sung Tongs or the full-band rock of 2005’s Feels, Strawberry Jam’s songs are built around loops, samples, and electronics. Earlier albums utilized a similar set up, but now the band has mixed the tribal drums, chanting, and call-and-response vocals that were prevalent on the last couple albums, adding more electronics to create something brand new once again.
The first three-quarters of the show was Strawberry Jam, with each song building on repetitive musical figures and vocal loops, shattered only by Avey Tare’s manic thrashing at a cymbal or a piercing shout from either him or Panda Bear. The tribal element of the band’s music is on full display live, with the audience bobbing along, often clapping in time, until the breaking point when the band’s ambient noise floods over the crowd.
Avey Tare and Panda Bear’s harmonies were amazingly pristine, often creating the melodic core of a song when placed over top of the rhythmic elements from Geologist’s digital trickery to hand drums. Avey Tare moves constantly, dancing and bouncing to the beats as if he’s the only one in the room. The second portion of the show was a set of older songs, with the lilting “Loch Raven” and frantic “We Tigers” being the highlights.
After seeing them live, I’m still no closer to explaining to someone what Animal Collective’s music is all about or what it sounds like to my ears, but I guarantee they’re the only ones out there doing it.