Appropriately, the stage was wrapped in teeth. Incisors hanging from the rafters, canines and premolars at the foot, forming a light-up, abstract, multicolored jaw. If you sat and thought about it long enough from the crowd, you might get in a distressing internal debate: are we on the outside of this giant mouth looking in, or vice versa? But that’s the thing about experimental rock trailblazers Animal Collective – they want you to be confused. They’ve made a career out of pulling the rug out from under their crowd.
Early shows in loft spaces and arty basements were notoriously uproarious, intense, unrestrained – playing a show at Haverford College circa 2005, keyboard player Geologist swung from piping along the ceiling, shimmying out over the crowd. As their freak-psych sound grew in appeal, the band took a right turn and made the ultra-catchy and accessible Merriweather Post Pavilion, released in 2009. On that tour, the band stood stoic and Kraftwerk-style behind four synthesizers, not showing much of the unbridled energy we saw early on. So, um, are they a pop band now? Nope – their first release on the heels of Merriweather was the minbending, alienating film-and-music collaboration ODDSAC, followed by the current Centipede Hz, an album that – while not overly weird – shows little of the catchiness of its predecessor. Which brings us to The Mann Center on Wednesday. What kind of Animal Collective would the thin-but-devoted crowd of maybe 3,000 be treated to? As it happened, it was the best of both worlds – a band with instruments and the energy of the early days, playing songs with a poppy and broadly-appealing spin.
Drawing heavily from Centipede. the new material was resuscitated for the stage – the intense conga rhythms of “Today’s Supernatural” shot out, while the bass-heavy breakdown of 7″ single “Honeycomb” had crowd and band jumping. There wasn’t much in the way of instrument-swapping – Panda Bear stayed stationed behind the drums, Deakin on guitar, Avey Tare on keys – but the band moved to the music, jostling and jumping and spinning in their respective corners of stage.
The set’s middle section meandered into lulling drone, songs melding into other songs, none really jumping out. It was a fine opportunity to get lost in the imaginative, colorful, pulsating set design – large inflatable talons that arced across one side or the other of the giant stage-mouth. But not even this could save the dull “New Town Burnout”; there was simply no there there.
But picking back up with the new “Monkey Riches” – a pulsing, progressive synth rock swell over six minutes and change – the closing trifecta was a winner. “Brother Sport” from Merriweather Post ignited the crowd into rave-dancing mode and set-closer “Peacebone” from 2007’s Strawberry Jam brought Avey Tare out from behind the keyboards, dancing spasticly, diving into the outstretched arms of the front row. Combined with the blissful singalong encore of “My Girls,” this showed that Animal Collective has the power to galvanize its crowd – but only on its own terms.
Wide Eyed [video]
Today’s Supernatural [video]
Lion in a Coma [video]
New Town Burnout [video]
Monkey Riches [video]
Brother Sport [video]
Animal Collective, The Mann Center for the Performing Arts