This post originally appeared on SF Critic.
Written by David Johnson-Igra
Photographed by Ryan Holmes
Animal Collective's performance was a bit of a carnival. The wide grinning stage arrangement was framed by huge illuminating teeth and a backdrop of cavernous jowls that drew the crowds' attention to the 'throat' of the stage where Animal Collective stood. Psychedelic images flickered off the teeth insync with Avey Tare's crasp cries and Geologist's fracking synths.
The avant-garde folk and psychedelic collective have stood at the forefront of indie, before 'indie' was a term; which, for that matter makes them more indie than quite possibly even the term can describe. It was only after their previous album, Merriweather Post Pavillion, their eighth studio recording, that the band made the jump from that "obscure band you probably never heard of" to gracing the pages of every music critics' best albums of 2009. Somewhere in between that rise to fame came the (rather young) crowd this past Friday night to the Fox Theater in Oakland to catch Animal Collective on their current Centipede Hz tour.
Jumping quickly into their new album, the setlist didn't stray much into their past work, which could have been problematic. Animal Collective's style is "obtuse" to the naive ear, which probably describes most listeners in attendance, since Centipede Hz was only released a few weeks before the show (Sept 4th). The set began with "Rosie Oh," a track similar to the Beatles' "Strawberry Fields," with morphine drip notes punctuated by Panda Bear's singing about taking a trip alone. "Today's Supernatural" followed with Avey Tare's vocals rushing with energy infectiously bursting the crowd into dance as Tare stammered "Let-let-let-let go." Even though the first ten songs were all from the new album (with the exception of "Lion in a Coma" and "Honeycomb" which is an A-side from a recent 7" single), the crowd's excitement continued to build.
Unlike Merriweather Post Pavillion, most of Centipede Hz lacks the clear harmonies and pop sensibility that had the former album compared to Beach Boy's Pet Sounds. In replacement are the aggressive undertones of Tare's nasally vocals, Geologist's whimsically awry samples and off-kilter rhythms of Panda Bear. Live "Moonjack" recalled almost a punk rock flare with Deakin's slashing guitar, crashing percussions and utter chaos of chirps and synths. Like each of Animal Collective's previous work, Centipede Hz seems to push Animal Collective's style forward, which is not to say there aren't elements of their previous efforts. The crashing cymbals of "Applesauce" and Panda Bear's screams highlights the album's edgier rock tones, but the track's melodious beginning is comparable to one of group's most notable singles, "Guys Eyes."
Though Centipede Hz hasn't been as well received by critics (it's really not that bad), one wouldn't have been able to tell Friday night. Within the first three songs, the crowd was dancing wildly with crowd surfing ensuing shortly thereafter. As one might expect from an Animal Collective show, several fans were drenched in sweat as they stumbled through the venue with sedated eyes searching aimlessly, adding to the spectacle on stage a sense of bizarre revelry. Some fans wore costumes, Panda Bear masks not excluded, adding to the carnival atmosphere.
It was surprising to some extent the number of young fans in attendance. Not to pass judgement, but many of these fans were probably only 10 or even younger when Animal Collective released their first album, Spirit They're Gone, Spirit They've Vanished. I'd assume most of these fans came to hear the group's aforementioned more "popular" album, Merriweather Post Pavillion; which, became even more evident as the crowd erupted with excitement during encore addition of "My Girls." However, besides "My Girls," the setlist ignored the group's most noted singles from Merriweather Post Pavillion like "Bluish" and "Guys Eyes," opting instead to play "Lion in A Coma" and "Brothersport."
Going into the show a part of me was anxious by the uncertainty of what to expect. Noted for their almost improvisational, free arrangements (sometimes there are three members other times four), and artistic sets, Friday night's show was a performance. Even though the band was seemingly more comfortable hidden from the crowd's gaze, visible mostly as silhouettes, this performance was markedly different. Songs quickly segued, building in rhythms and energy, saving more dance friendly singles like "Peacebone," "My Girls" and "Monkey Riches" for last. Whitney Phaneuf, a friend and local music critic, explained to me she was surprised to see Panda Bear dancing across the stage and explained, "It seemed they were really excited to be there" after noting this was the band's first Bay Area performance in three years.
By the end of the night, I was surprised how quickly the set past. If Friday night was any indicator, the band's constantly developing style is also happening in their live set, moving towards a more accessible (even if unfamiliar) show that I, for one, can certainly embrace.