Animal Collective delight at Avalon

A review of Animal Collective at the Avalon Ballroom on September 5, 2007

, Staff

Freak-folk seems to be the genre most people use to classify Animal Collective. That said, the label barely fits the band and certainly does not encompass them. Animal Collective’s use of acoustic guitars might provide the folk, but on top of that they layer ambient noises, found sounds, synthesizers, screaming and vocals that run the gamut from pitch ignorant vowel sounds to beautiful pop melodies. Last Wednesday night the band arrived in Boston bearing songs from their much-anticipated upcoming release Strawberry Jam. That such a remarkably original and experimental band was able to pack the Avalon is a testament to both their hard work and rabid fan base. Taking a stage occupied by skeletons amidst an awesome light show the band began the night with a Jam track “Unsolved Mysteries”. The song was a good choice to start as it exuded a feeling of childlike fun that Animal Collective seems to specialize in.

Although a few drums were littered about stage and Avey Tare occasionally broke out a guitar, the band mostly stuck to their effects rigs, delay processors and drum machine triggers. The interaction between the band was interesting since they were acting somewhere in between rock band and DJ. As for what came out of the machines, each song was accompanied with its own loop based digital drone, which usually incorporated skittish synthesized sounds and occasional percussive pops and hisses. On top of this, the headlamp-wearing loop mastermind Geologist placed hard-hitting bass and drum sounds, while Panda Bear seemed to be in charge of most of the melodic instruments. Of course it was pretty hard to figure out who was responsible for what noises. Tare held center stage, operating a host of pedals as well as most of the vocal duties. With the drones and found noises providing a blanket of noise and the bass pumped up to keep the club moving, the band managed to create a blend of sound that lay somewhere between Indian music and house music.

“Peacebone”, a highlight off the new record, was a thrill to watch live. As Geologist and Panda Bear built the track into a juggernaut, Avey Tare manipulated his voice carefully between a high pitched nervous croon and an all-out shout along chorus. In addition to these fast paced songs the band also put their wall of sound electronics to work on a number of slower tunes like “Dancer with Flowers in her Hair,” which began with cricket noises and drew upon acoustic guitar samples.

“Who Could Win a Rabbit?”, which on record is one of the band’s most instrumentally obvious songs, began with what sounded like a train and turned into a sort of bizarre folk stomp/rap as it was slowed down and given a whole lot of extra bass. Stars came out on the stage background as the band slowed things down with “The Dreamer.”

“Will to Joy”, the last song of the main set, was pure bliss. The song features pretty reverb soaked synths covering near joyous island inflected vocal performances from Tare and Bear. Throughout the set the crowd was very engaged, especially toward the stage where people were dancing wildly to even the most feet unfriendly polyrhythms.

The band (and stars) returned for “Fireworks,” another excellent Jam song featuring one of the band’s catchiest melodies in its ooo-ing refrain. Panda Bear took up banging on a minor drum setup on his side of the stage as the band seamlessly floated away from “Fireworks” and into “Essplode” only to slide back into “Fireworks” for one last verse. The encore ended with “Leaf House,” a beautiful, dreamy number that deserves the title freak-folk.

Animal Collective’s performance was kind of like what an awesome magic show is to a five year old. Even though you have no idea how they did it on or what could happen next you simply can’t turn away.

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