Animal Collective – [Live]

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Why am I such a late-comer to things? Am I stubborn or just out of it? “It” being the so-called “loop,” of course. How so? Well, I’ll refer to my favorite example, which is that I just now got into Crass, and I’m twenty-seven. Twenty-seven! Adding to this, I first heard Animal Collective last year when I decided to pick up Strawberry Jam after, sadly enough, reading the stellar review on Pitchfork, of all places. This is particularly baffling to me if you consider that they’re eight albums into their career. Where have they been all my life? Regardless, I think I’m going to blame this shortcoming on the fact that Indie Rock (a laughably defunct genre for music nowadays, if you ask me) isn’t my forte. Beard-punk turntablism on the other hand… 

Montreal is a great city. It was my first time visiting and I was enjoying the sights, drinking copious amounts of espressos, practicing – and failing at – my French, purchasing so many records ($350 worth) that I was questioning my sanity, and wondering how in the world girls in this city can pass off leggings and a large flannel shirt as fashion. Have they sunk so low into Hipster-ism?

Anyway, it’s 2009, and I happen to be in Montreal, I happen to be hanging out with kids who are eight years younger than me (why not add to the isolation, right?) and Animal Collective happen to be playing the city. So, of course I’m going to try to get into the sold out show, and after some help from the wonderful people at Indoor Recess PR and Greenland promotions, I somehow succeed. I even snag a photo pass for one lucky friend, who as we leave her apartment and head to the venue towards a setting sun, I’m quickly briefing on the standard protocol for photographers at shows. I’m intently focused on giving her the right instructions and just follow her through the streets and alleyways without paying attention. It’s a shame really, because after walking for 10 minutes, I have no idea where we are, and haven’t been soaking in the wonderful architecture of the city. I just look up and see a giant sign that says “Animal Collective” with a subheader “Grouper.” “We’re here already. How about that?” I think to myself.

The Metropolis is one of those rare venues that manages to feel cozy while still holding 1000+ people, so I’m pleasantly surprised as we hustle through the theatre-esque lobby towards the floor, only to be confronted by a sea of people. It’s packed, and Animal Collective are just about to go on, which is an inherent problem if you’re trying to get to the absolute front towards the barricade. This is a minor inconvenience for my photographer (she’s 5’3” on a tall day), but my oafish 6-foot 200lbs is having a harder time maneuvering, and it’s getting hotter the more we penetrate into the crowd. “This better be worth it!” I think to myself, wiping my forehead.

Once she finds the barricade, I’m a bit uneasy when I realize that the only place to stand is right next to the 20’ speakers. “This will have to do. How loud could this possibly get, anyway?” Well, the walk-in music for the band settled that for me: fucking loud! Particularly because they picked a bass-heavy dub to walk on stage to, and unfortunately, Animal Collective songs are bass-heavy. I can’t describe the level of discomfort at this point; it’s hot, and so loud that I can feel my lungs vibrating and trying to burst out of my chest every 5 seconds, and I’m convinced that I’m causing some sort of permanent physical damage to some part of my body. Perhaps one that I didn’t even know I had. The only solace I take is that, at least, I brought ear plugs with me and that my hearing won’t be as plundered as the people around me. So, as I put in my neon-yellow ear-vigilantes, I just focus on what’s going on on-stage.

By now I’ve had some time to think about the show, and the only way I can describe Animal Collective live is seeing a chef making your favorite dishes. To anyone who’s heard Strawberry Jam and Merriweather Post Pavilion (a sure candidate for many best-of lists this year), Animal Collective songs can sound very intricate and complex at times. There are layers upon layers of sounds and embellishments in their songs, which makes for a very high replay value. And to my surprise, live the band actually breaks down the songs and constructs them from scratch for the audience, so the songs clock in at a significantly higher length than the album versions, but is absolutely mesmerizing to watch at times. The band starts with an indistinguishable simple beat, and is constantly feeding new samples, looping, layering, and tampering, and before you know it, you’re watching one of your favorite songs being performed on stage. This is very satisfying to say the least and any person who chooses to have an altered state of mind (and let me tell you, my friend, the “green dragon” was soaring high that night) is completely missing the point of an Animal Collective show. You miss the show if you’re not paying attention.

At times, this can be a problem. When the listener is unfamiliar with the song that’s being constructed, there is no interest in seeing your chef make you a dish that you’ve never had. It might taste good, but the interest in creation is minimal, downright boring, at this point. I just want to experience the end product. Fortunately, the band stuck mostly to material from the Feels album on down, so these moments of disinterest were few and far in between.

So, in short, Animal Collective offer a great performance if you want them to. Yes, the show feels a bit like a rave, and yes there are people who show up to these just to dance or do drugs, but to those who are willing to pay attention, they end up experiencing the band on a whole other level, and come away from the show with much more than any altered state can offer.


Merriweather Post Pavilion is out now. Buy it on Amazon.

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