Animal Collective Goes Wild

Avey Tare sure can scream. And not just scream—yelp, shout and shriek. He can also sing angelically, with a voice that floats above any ethereal noise he and his bandmates in the wonderful Animal Collective sometimes-quartet can conjure up. But he’s really good at screaming, too.
He and his raucous and frenzied friends altogether dismantled the common rock show with a gig at the Vanguard in Los Angeles on March 7.
All four of the collective are involved in the current touring group. First, Tare himself plays guitar and sings. Then there’s Panda Bear on drums—which is to say he’s really good at beating the crap out of a floor tom and hitting an occasional snare or crash. On guitar along with Tare is Deakin, tall and lanky, decked with a telecaster and spinning, jumping, clapping and dancing. And then we have Geologist, downstage and center with a spelunker’s head lamp wrapped around his unruly hair, fiddling with his assorted audio machines: minidisc players, mixing boards and strange white spheres.
Together, the Animal Collective produces music so beautifully disjointed and so melodically psychedelic that adjectives don’t really work. They transcend genres as their songs and climactic freak-outs melt into one another.
They began the show with a new version of ‘Good Lovin Outside’ from 2004’s much-lauded ‘Sung Tongs.’ This harmony-laden number segued into the epic ‘Banshee Beat’ from their latest album ‘Feels.’ The nine-minute song droned in and out, riffing slowly on a single chord as Tare sweetly called out the lyrics, conjuring images of the summer: ‘Oh there’ll be time / to get dry / after the swimming pool.’ At the subtle chord change a third of the way in, the song built up from its calm and quiet beginnings into a more fleshed-out number with percussive taps driving it powerfully but quietly along; the climaxing yells of ‘swimming pool!’ coupled with a drum roll into a crash sends wonderful shivers down the spine.
More than a few times during their set, a song would develop into a full-on party onstage with Tare dropping his guitar, grabbing a mic and a drum stick, running around while yelping spastically and hitting Panda’s cymbals at scheduled moments of collective anarchy. Deakin would bellow into a heavily synthesized and effected microphone creating bass-heavy notes that shook the walls. And Geologist would just rock the hell out at his station. With any other band, this approach simply wouldn’t work.
‘Grass,’ easily the most infectious song on their latest release, was spot-on in the live setting. It came early in their set and caused an excited uproar in the crowd as the guitars jangled along to a thumping tom beat. Tare’s voice swam among the reverb guitars, the ambient noise provided by Geologist, and the tribal tom hits. It was beautiful.
Other highlights of the show included the hook-laden ‘The Purple Bottle,’ an ecstatic, fast-paced jam full of harmonious yelps and drum rim hits about love and the color purple and lots of other indecipherable stuff. Like many of the night’s numbers, this one developed into a wild menagerie of noise from the band, with each member screaming their own hooks while the whole venue melted into yelps and floor tom beats.
‘We Tigers’ from ‘Sung Tongs’ was the official anthem of the night. All four members grabbed microphones and began to hop around frantically, yelling words like ‘analogous’ and ‘poltergeist’ to the beat of the tom drum. The energy was indescribable as they all jumped around, totally immersing themselves in the primal, haunting yet utterly celebratory chants. Crowd participation was at its highest, as well, with everyone shouting right along.
The show ended with a trademark ‘freak-out,’ and all four of these tired souls dropped their microphones and thanked the crowd for coming. After nearly two hours of playing, they deserved the huge round of applause that followed.
Animal Collective is, along with contemporaries such as Broken Social Scene, among the few unique and groundbreaking musical artists around today. Not many musicians make music as truly strange and endearing, or as beautifully catchy and spastically spontaneous, as these four do.
In their world, music has a color which they strive to create, whether with half-inaudible vocals about walking through rivers of noses, field recordings of birds and streams, incessant tom beats and jangled guitars. With this in mind, Animal Collective’s live show could probably be best described as a Dali painting done in Crayola crayons, by a really precocious 6-year-old. I truly mean that in the best way possible.
After Animal Collective left the stage, I think I saw the faint semblance of a rainbow arch across it.