Animal Collective hit the House of Blues

A review of Animal Collective at the House of Blues on May 14, 2009

, Staff Writer

Darlings of the indie blogosphere since 2004’s Sung Tongs, Animal Collective have been steadily picking up steam for some years now. The apex of this steady increase in notoriety came with an unexpected early “release” of Merriweather Post Pavilion, a Christmastime leak which ignited a flurry of discussion as to the actual merits of the band vs. the echo chamber that is the Internet. When the album was released to the general public, the consensus was seemingly reached that Merriweather was the album that Animal Collective had been destined to write: an amalgamation of all of the unique facets of the band presented in a much more approachable way, as evidenced by the album’s peak at #13 on the Billboard 200.

With this new found recognition, Animal Collective have taken to the road, embarking on a lengthy tour of the U.S. and selling out a number of venues along the way. The House of Blues in Boston was no exception, selling out a few weeks before the show was to be performed. The set was one filled with musical character changes throughout, the trio keeping the audience guessing, subverting expectations and showing us that Animal Collective is way more than variations on “My Girls”.

The band took the stage to the darkened venue and began slowly constructing their first song, “What Would I Want Sky”, a b-side of Merriweather. The song’s seven-beat measures and combination of lush atmospherics with clanging percussion made for an interesting opener, not explosive and bombastic as most bands, but interesting on a musical level to whet the appetite of the listener. The group allowed the song to develop into a lengthy jam, samples painting the air with deft precision. Brian Weitz, donning a caving headlamp so as to better see all of his electronic equipment (hence his stage name of Geologist) constantly manipulated the machines in front of him, turning knobs, bringing volume levels up and down, and generally filling out the music. Panda Bear’s vocals were sharp and sounded cleanly above the beat down below. The exceptional audio of the House of Blues really did a lot for Animal Collective’s sound.

“What I Would Want Sky” was immediately followed by “Summertime Clothes”, an irresistibly bouncy groove that had everyone in the crowd jumping up and down. Watching Animal Collective constantly devote themselves entirely to the musical moment did a lot to keep the audience into the show’s flow, which definitely was not just a constant stream of tribal drums. It was surprising to see as many improvised sections as there were. In fact, a majority of the show seemed to be Animal Collective “jamming” from one song to the next. They confidently took the time to stretch the quieter ambient moments by feeding off of each other and letting the song develop at its own pace. This isn’t a group one would expect to spend a lot of time improvising sections, yet that’s exactly what they did, and the results were material that remained quintessentially Animal Collective while holding that excitement of hearing something spontaneous.

Though Merriweather clearly had the highest number of songs performed, the group happily performed cuts from Strawberry Jam and Sung Tongs. “Fireworks”, off of Jam, was a favorite of the crowd, with people commenting on how great the performance was afterward. During at least two improvised sections the band heavily teased some aspect of “My Girls”, in one case holding on the clear tonic before delving into another song, and the other mimicking the triplet pattern that begins the song. Another highlight of the show was “Comfortable In Nautica”, which is a solo tune off Panda Bear’s Person Pitch. The song translated well to Animal Collective’s sound, a little less electronic and with more driving percussion. The group closed the set with “Brothersport”, the last song on Merriweather, and a very suitable closer. The groove is joyous and infectious, Avey Tare and Panda Bear happily trading vocal phrases with one another, or allowing their voices to move around one another. “Give a real, give a real shout out”, the repeated refrain that ended the song, had everyone jumping up and down feverishly and, predictably, cheering loudly.

Animal Collective came back on stage for a three-song encore that began with “Chocolate Girl”, an early song of theirs, re-imagined with a new beat. This segued nicely into “My Girls”, which was probably inevitable once the initial set passed without it being played. Interestingly enough, “My Girls” didn’t translate to the live setting as well as a number of other songs. The groove was present, but not as driving as it is on the album. Compared to the much heavier, louder beats used, “My Girls” was fairly subdued, even during its peak moments, like the second half of each chorus. Nonetheless, it was a great song to hear, and the audience was very glad to have heard it. The show ended with “Leaf House”, another early song that had been “updated” for the band’s developed sound.

It may be tempting to write Animal Collective off as a band that captures that overall indie “aesthetic” more than an actual quality group, but seeing them live will completely assuage those doubts. There is a definite underlying musical intent to everything they do, and watching the group construct their songs from the ground up in front of your very eyes can completely change the way they’re perceived. They can make you dance easily enough, sure, but their free-form, lengthy exploratory jams were the real meat of the concert, and lent a lot of credence to what Animal Collective does as a whole.

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