Animal Collective played the Fillmore last night in support of their new album, Strawberry Jam. Though still sonically rich, Strawberry Jam is a tighter, more focused, and structurally predicable album than Animal Collective has ever delivered. The Fillmore is a decent mid-size venue for a band like Animal Collective whose audience has grown considerably over the last two years.
When Tuffy and I arrived, opener, Wizard Prison, was playing. Wizard Prison, a gimmicky, electronica act with metal guitars and spooky atmospherics, didn’t do it for me, so rather than rush headlong into the crush of kids, we waited patiently by the bar. Sophia said that recent Animal Collective shows consisted of unreleased post-SJ material for a new album that was heavily influenced by dance music. I’d read something similar online. As Wizard Prison finished their set, we moved into the crowd, found a spot and waited beer in hand, while the Fillmore blasted us with dub and reggae through heavily taxed, and possibly blown, speakers. At one point, a video screen slid down on the wall to play an ad for a Yerba Matte drink. Skinny, hairless, pimply boys jittered nervously while their girlfriends texted each other from across the room.
At 10, Avey Tare, Panda Bear, and Geologist took the stage, but Deakin never appeared. Panda Bear, ensconced behind his organs for most of the songs with only his pale face in view, framed by his shaggy, Prince Valiant hair, reminded me of a choirboy, down to his often churchly castrato singing voice. Geologist was the frenetic, unkempt, laser-eyed Cyclops he always transforms into on stage. Avey Tare possessed the center, both literally and figuratively, of the night’s performance; moving between several musical stations, synthesizers, drumkits, and guitar, while singing and emoting with his body.
Unfortunately, the sound system was terrible, overdriven and badly mixed. I couldn’t tell if the band realized this or not, but it ruined the show for me and possibly many others. Absent were hits from Feels or most anything from earlier albums, like Sung Tongs or Here Comes the Indians. The set was almost entirely made up of songs from an album of unreleased material. Judging by the new material, Animal Collective is already in the process of abandoning the Pavement-style American Indie sound they’ve been inching towards album-by-album, instead embracing European electronic music, dub, dancehall, and even early 90s House music.
In total, they played four songs from the new album, “Peacebone,” “Derek,” “Unsolved Mysteries,” and “Fireworks.” Of them, only the last one came off with the power and enthusiasm of the recordings. “Peacebone” and “Unsolved Mysteries” were okay, but “Derek,” one of the best songs on the new album, due in large part to the bombastic snare drums and Panda Bear’s cacophonous crooning, felt flat, utterly ruined by the sound system and the lack of live percussion.
The band and the crowd maintained an awkward, uneasy relationship throughout. The crowd went berserk for anything from the newest album, but the band seemed reluctant to deliver; almost sullen. The crowd, mostly young suburban kids, seemed confused by the new material. They often fell into a profound listlessness broken only occasionally by hysterical cheers at the rare appearance of a song from Feels or Strawberry Jam.
At the start of every song, the kid behind me would say to his girlfriend either, “I’m totally lost,” or “I know this one; you’ll like it.” The best, most revealing moment came early on, after “Peacebone.” He turned to her and said, “They just played one of the three songs I know.”
High above in the balconies, the local music press-erati watched the kids sway awkwardly amidst a dense aural smog, battered by mega-watt multi-colored stagelights and smoke machines. The balcony seats were filled by fashionable, well-dressed early thirty-somethings, while the floor was overwhelmingly gangly adolescents and post-adolescents, dressed in bad, awkward wannabe-hipster attire; big hair and skinny ties from Urban Outfitters. A wretched bricolage of identities that, in retrospect fit the mutating hybridity of Animal Collective’s new sounds better than I would like. And the press-erati, with their undergraduate musings on art, assessing and repackaging new sounds into consumable commodities, belonged in their balcony seats above the assembled crowd too. But what about Animal Collective?
During a rare moment when Avey addressed the audience, he unconvincingly mumbled how happy Animal Collective were to be there. Watching them on stage, I detected a hint of ambivalence, and wasn’t sure I should believe him. Maybe it was the bad sound system, maybe I was tired and too old for the kids, but judging from the show at the Fillmore last night, I think Animal Collective may be feeling the stress of so many changes; to their sound, their audience, and their identities. Maybe they aren’t so sure they want to be just another music commodity.