As soon as I entered the Guggenheim for Animal Collective/Danny Perez's "Transverse Temporal Gyrus," my eyes felt like they exploded from the sheer sensory overload. Three black robbed figures wearing macabre rabbit masks stood amidst myriad of rainbow colored lights and amorphous foam structures. It was as if my childhood Lite-Brite had been brought to the big stage, illuminating a host of creatures that existed only in my nightmares. Or, Disney had finally embraced their evil side and created a demonic version of the Main Street Electrical Parade.
I rapidly texted my friends, who were still waiting in line to get in. "Oh my God, you guys this is insane!"
I was a fool.
Before you call me too shallow and not sophisticated enough to understandAnimal Collective, I like the band. In fact, I really enjoyed their performance last year in Los Angeles What I believe happened on March 4, 2010 is the story of what happens when most bands become mainstream: They outgrow their tiny, niche audience that embraces them for their quirky characteristics. In order to reach the status where Vanity Fair and the Wall Street Journal will write about your shows, you have to realize that you aren't marketing to the same art school crowd that you used to play for lest you disappoint your new fan base. Unfortunately, Animal Collective didn't get this memo.
The majority of the audience paid $30 to see what the website claimed was a "site-specific performance piece that will transform the museum's rotunda into a kinetic, psychedelic environment" (Translation: You will trip balls). They were expecting to see Animal Collective play music or at the very least, hear new music from the band. For most, this was the first time they were going to see the band. Relying on the hype of their live performances, both the 4:30 P.M. and the 9 P.M. performances had sold out, with tickets for the later show disappearing within five minutes from its general public release.
Instead, like me, they spent three hours watching three musicians in costumes slightly moving their heads to peer at odd images on the wall, while ambient noise - a nice way of saying disharmonious babel that no amount of distortion could turn into music - invaded their eardrums. Besides the bottom floor and the two projectors that were casting images on the spiral-shaped walls, there was nothing else on display except for the exasperated fans who kept hoping that Animal Collective would rip off their masks and play just one song. Oh, and that one guy with black frames and button down lying motionless on the floor who was either a) on a combination of so many drugs he probably emptied out my local pharmacy, b) asleep or c) bored. (I'm voting for the latter two, but acknowledging there is a strong possibility that the first choice is true.)
While waiting in like for the only bathroom on the first floor of the Guggenheim, I questioned the one of the workers who had to watch both the 4:30P.M. and the 9:00P.M. performances. He admitted he was just as confused as the rest of the patrons and was bracing himself for the anger of the larger crowd. Even the stoners at the earlier show walked away disgusted, leaving before the end of the first three-hour show, he told me.
"Except for the people on acid," he wisely noted. "They had a great time."
A group of people wearing animal masks decided to dance in front of the makeshift stage. (They didn't have any rhythm so it didn't matter if the "music" had no beat.) The person next to me commented that they were probably part of the performance. I offered him a half-smile, unable to tell him that these people were no more than pretentious hipsters who in their attempt to be oh-so-holier-than-thou were pretending that they heard music where music did not exist. Who else would mock the artists and steal the spotlight by dancing to someone else's performance art?
Near the end of the show, I found a couple in a passionate argument. The man wanted to leave. The woman, on the other hand, was adamant that Animal Collective was going to all of a sudden start playing music.
"It's 11:30 P.M. It ends at midnight. They're not going to play," he implored.
"No, I'm sure they are. What else are they doing here otherwise?" she retorted.
I decided not to comment. I figured that this bit of disappointment would be a valuable lesson not only for their relationship, but also for them as music fans. Sometimes, if you drink the Kool Aid before realizing what it's really made of because everyone else is doing it, you're not going to like the taste.