photos by Dakota Fine
review by: Merriweather Post Pavillion
Not to brag or anything, but I’m a pretty big deal. The biggest concert-hosting deal – in fact – in the area except the Verizon Center, and that guy’s a dumb jock. I’ve got more history and soul in my Port-o-Johns than DAR Constitution Hall has in it’s entire body. The only place that the Who and Led Zeppelin shared a stage? Yeah, that was me. Where the Kinks recorded Live: The Road? That was me too.
When Katy Perry wants to sell candycolored sex to 19,000 newly pubescent girls, she comes to me. When Mumford and Sons want to take you away to a simpler time, they use me. When Bob Motherfucking Dylan wants to confuse and bore legions of people who just want to see him play “Like a Rolling Stone” so they can go home and pay the babysitter, he comes to me. Hell, that Virgin Free Fest you all love so much, guess where that is? YEP! Me.
So when some indie-artiste-types from Baltimore decided to name their eighth record after me, I was intrigued. First I was all like, “What the hell is an Animal Collective?” Then, I Googled them and was pretty horrified. They sounded like infants who wanted to make music really badly, but had not yet mastered things like “speech” or “appendage control” or “spatial reasoning.” But they promised that the new record would be more dance-oriented, and I like dancing, so I let ‘em. And you know what? It turned out fine. Several critics agreed.
And on that cache of good faith, I let them and some of their posse come and to do justice by the hallowed halls of Merriweather P. Pavillion despite the fact that – let’s face it – they aren’t my typical houseguests. Here’s what happened:
Black Dice is everything that your parents hate about Animal Collective without one hint of what your parents might actually like about Animal Collective, if they gave AC a chance.* Three dudes standing over tables of unidentifiable electronics doing God-knows-what, shouting/making gurgle noises about something – could be casual thoughts on soccer, could be treatises on the metaphysics of morals – at extreme volumes. It didn’t matter because not one word in the entire 45 minute set was intelligible.
My cameramen – who were forced to switch between shots of three dudes turning knobs on different machines** – and my soundmen – who struggled to make sure that the speakers wouldn’t blow or catch flame – were equally confused. So was, I gathered, the audience. About 20% of the under-capacity pavillion cheered after each “song,” and by my count, about 20% of the audience were on some really, really hard drugs. A causal relationship?
While enduring wave after wave of lava-hot noise and skittering sampled drums, I could not help but think that I was not the appropriate venue for Black Dice. Their incoherent shouting into heavily distorted microphones and punishing arrhythmic bass drums seemed more suited for a fraternity hazing ritual or – I don’t know – Guantanamo Bay. My support beams quaked. My P.A. mixing board got a headache. If I had physical ears, chances are they’d be a-bleeding.
Expectations effectively lowered, I watched the kids with the painted faces file in and braced myself for the headliners.
The boys of Animal Collective decided to decorate me like an underground Crayola rave.*** Bright white paper stalagmites were strewn about my stage, receiving cartoon projections, blocking band members, lighting up in technicolor. From my rafters hung strands of neon purple Christmas lights and red polygons. Behind my main stage, they installed a giant face made of paper geodesic triangles and more projectors.
If you gave a team of five year olds a $40,000 set-design budget and a handful of psychedelics, you’d get similar results. And that’s not necessarily a diss: AnCo has clearly worked hard on this aesthetic, and it’s a pretty good reflection of their sound.
Disclaimer: Here are the Animal Collective songs that they played that you might have heard before: “Did You See The Words?” “Brothersport” A very, very fast version of “We Tigers” → “Summertime Clothes” “Taste” The rest of the set was exclusively new material. And gurgle noises.
After teasing the audience with gurgle/bleep noises for a minute, Animal Collective launched into it’s first song. With Deacon singing, the band gave the audience it’s first hint at the new AnCo direction: bubbling arpeggios of strange synths, gurgling samples, yelps. Sound familiar? The biggest departure from their sound from my namesake album to now is their wholehearted embrace of more complex, start-and-stop rhythms. Whereas every quarter-note on M(e)PP seemed an opportunity for a kick drum, the rhythms of the new songs rarely went four bars without an abrupt stop or curveball.
The next song – an Avey Tare jam – featured more of the hallmarks of the Animal Collective sound: Avey contorting his voice from whisper to yelp to scream-from-the-bottom-of-the-ocean, Panda Bear (behind a drum kit all night) tapping away at his snare’s rim, carnival noises run backwards. You know, Animal Collective.
Much of the new material proceeded in this fashion. Gurgle noises → Skittery Rhythms → Avey doing the Avey thing. Despite the re-entry of Deacon into the band, his guitar does not play as noticeable a role as it did on Feels or Strawberry Jam. The new Panda Bear songs sounded like (and may have been for all I know) cuts off of Tomboy. In all, it was serviceable, interesting in an academic sense, but there were few times when I felt the band and the audience come together as one under my roof.
One of these times was during “Did You See The Words?” which had been retrofitted to the new, driving, more electronic style of playing. The other was “Brothersport,” during which everyone from the dads seated in my Pavilion to the stoners laying down on my lawn took the opportunity to take to their feet, jump up and down, smile, and celebrate the simple joy of a beautiful song on a perfect summer evening. Appropriate that a cut from my record could have that effect on these people at my house.
If you’re looking for this show in a nutshell, look at their encore: two completely new songs, gurgle-noise intros and outros, and “Taste,” a deep cut from MPP. As people left, I got the sense that the average person was – once she got over the fact that the band never played “My Girls” – generally happy and maybe a little confused with the proceedings. And I respect that. Sure beats Sting playing the same songs he played when he came by 20 years ago. These indie kids can come back any time they like… as long as they keep naming records after me.
*which they won’t.
**when one played a guitar or hit a drum trigger, there was a palpable near-orgasm of glee in the video editing booth. “Something to video! Something to video!” I heard them exclaim.
***Drawing inspiration equally from Amy and Cale’s wedding and Lysergic Acid Diethylamide, I think.