Sunday, January 25, 2009

Animal Collective--The Metro, Chicago, Illinois

Bands often give cities a feel for their music scene. Mainstays for great music have always been Chicago, New York, Austin, Athens, Nashville, Seattle, DC, Nashville, etc. A recent hotspot has become Baltimore from which Animal Collective hails. Not that I ever really wondered about Detroit’s rock scene, but I got my first taste of D-Town in the opener, Rodriguez. The frontman (I don’t know his name and didn’t look it up, my reasons will be clear in a few moments) wore loose leather (or was it pleather?) clothes including a leather vest, exposing his leathery arms. He donned the always-cool, indoor shades and a black, flat top hat with long, black curly hair spewing out from under the brim. Sound familiar? My thoughts were validated when someone yelled “WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE!!!” just before they began. Who these bozos were, I don’t know. It was an odd choice for opener and thankfully it was a short set. I also felt a little cheated because I never saw an opening band listed on the Metro website and so I thought it was going to be “An Evening With” Animal Collective, one of those shows where the rare, juicy 20-ounce steak is slapped down on your plate without the salad or other opening band appetizers. They appeared to be an average rock band with a questionable lead man. Warm up the bus, Busters, the traffic has parted and the Skyway is wide open.

Last summer, Animal Collective gave an “off-the-hook” performance at the Pitchfork Music Festival, one that drove me wild over red bucket hats and Strawberry Jam. It was a set that ultimately was responsible for me buying Water Curses, Feels and ripping off Merriweather Post Pavillion in a feverish two-week span leading up to this show. And my God, all the talk surrounding Merriweather has been enough to make gossipy teenagers’ heads hang low.

An enthusiastic yet tame crowd made for a great ambience when Animal Collective came on. In a second-hand ghanja haze and slightly more tipsy than need be on a weekday night, I was hypnotized by Animal Collective. Every last body was rockin’, hands in the air, even down to the last person in the back by the bar. Admittedly, I didn’t recognize anything other than “My Girls” and “Lion in a Coma.” Animal Collective is known for their unpredictable shows, so I may have been in the presence of improvisational genius, but I would not have known because I was so hell bent on hearing “Bluish,” “Fireworks,” “Reverend Green,” or “Banshee Beat,” or some live amalgamated version of them. Avey Tare seemed to be running on low fuel, and later it was revealed that he had lost his voice (and they cancelled their LA show the next night). Panda Bear made up for it with his indie rock, billboard-smasher, “Comfy in Nautica.” The igneous Geologist’s head bobbled away with the headlamp and his metamorphic, out-of-any-world-we-know sounds*.

While I enjoyed this show, I second Pitchfork’s review on New York City's show in that something seemed to be missing. And let it be known that I came up with that opinion before I read the bellwether Pitchfork site review. Avey Tare’s kiddish voice punctuated by episodes of screaming at the top of his lungs was notably absent (a style which is absolutely awesome, by the way). Perhaps we were getting him at the beginning of an illness. And we didn’t get the awesome blinding modern light show that New York got the night before. Even so, the songs I consider to be their trademarks did not make the set list. But my ears are AC-na├»ve as this was my first real Animal Collective show. Are they are teasing us by not giving us exactly what we want? Naturally, this makes us like them more -- simple, effective playground politics.

Or maybe we’ve over-speculated this pork belly. There has been such ridiculous hype swirling around this band that it’s become a disappointment that they are not blowing our socks off at warp speed with our hair on fire. They are only really, really good which at the moment is not good enough. This is the curse of receiving a 9.6 rating on Pitchfork.

*For interesting insight into Animal Collective’s “circuit-bending” sounds, check out the Chicago Public Radio story, “Bent” by Delaney Hall, it starts around 14:30 into the program.

--Audrey Wen

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