Yesterday at roughly five PM, three of the men pictured above took the stage at New Jersey's APW festival. The festival (which was harder to escape, as it turns out, than a Nazi concentration camp) was marked by performances by some of Earth's most bangin' artists, such as Chromeo(see: Ninja Turtles: The Movie(Soundtrack)), Jet(see: The artists formerly known as the Kentucky Fried Strokes) and Metric (see: It'z Okay 2 B Gay!!!). The best act of the day, for real now, Animal Collective, comprised of Avey Tare(vocals, guitar, sequencing, percussion), Panda Bear(vocals, sequencing, sampling, drums) and Geologist(beard, sampling, sequencing) played an absolutely stellar set.
It was a remarkable thing to see and take part in, when a good portion of the crowd of several thousand people, sang furiously/ecstatically along to the set opener "House" which has only been heard in concert or on concert bootlegs of the 2008 tour. Animal Collective will never score charting hits and will probably never have a gold record, but unlike acts like Coldplay or Maroon 5, whose commercial success will inevitably eclipse that of Animal Collective eternally, Animal Collective are the proud possessors of what may be the most rabid, cult following of any band of this decade.
The band's sound, which bonds melodies and vocal harmonies as sugary and peaceful as the Beach Boys or Beatles with abrasive sound effects that would send shivers down pre-EVOL Sonic Youth's spines ebbs and flows in cohesion like classical music or say some of the more conceptual albums of Charles Mingus, with each song sounding like a movement in a much larger and grander work.
Animal Collective's set, which was criminally shorter than their following act, the Kings of Leon, packed seven or eight songs, depending on what you consider the near twenty minute "Fireworks/Essplode," a medley of two songs from opposite poles of Animal Collective's almost ten year career, into an hour. After the sing-along that was the Panda Bear led "House," the Collective jumped into another song only known to the devoted AC followers who scour blogs and youtube for new songs; the Avey Tare led "Bearhug" elicited just as energetic of a response from the crowd, who it seems to me, shouted in elation the chorus' main lyric: And I want to walk around with you.
Before I move on, I would like to make a quick note that distinguishing the songs as being Avey Tare led versus Panda Bear led is misleading perhaps to those who haven't seen and listened to the Animal Collective songs debuted on this tour. The new Animal Collective seem to be more democratic and balanced than the earlier phases of the band, including even the Sung Tongs(2004) era, where Tare and Bear were often indistinguishable from one another. This creates a more captivating show than bands like, say, Kings of Leon, who in addition to being void of any talent/hooks feel more like a showcase for one man than a real band.
An album track was not performed until the fifth song of the night, which after minutes of industrial sounding abrasion and noise, revealed itself to be "Comfy in Nautica" the opening track of Panda Bear's deservedly critically lauded solo release Person Pitch(2007). The only song(s) played from Animal Collective LP's were "Lablakely Dress/Fireworks/Essplode," Fireworks from their most recent album Strawberry Jam(2007) and "Lablakely Dress" and "Essplode" hailing from Danse Manatee(2001). "Fireworks/Essplode" was the highlight of a show, comprised entirely of highs. "Fireworks" is one of the two songs released off of the last LP as a single, and makes the perfect soundtrack for a walk on a summer night. Although when Animal Collective played the sun still illuminated Liberty State Park, the magic of the vibe was still retained. I don't know if it was just me, but it seemed that everyone in the audience vocalized the eloquent, melodic vocal passage that marks the real start of the song.
On the chorus when Avey Tare sang about the children watching the fireworks and screamed "THEY'VE GOT TWO/flashing eyes, but they're color blind..." the audience (or at the very least I) screamed cathartically along with them. An added bonus for a guitarist who loves soloing when the mood is right, was seeing Avey Tare bust out a several minute long solo. This could be seen to some Here Comes The Indian(2003) purists as a surrender to tradition, but should be viewed as what I believe it was at its heart: a reminder that for all their innovation and experimentalism Animal Collective is an earnest band who loves music and playing music as much as their biggest fans love it and furthermore, that Animal Collective are the best rock band making music today.
The set closed with a phenomenal performance of a new, Panda led song, "Brother Sport," which evokes African and Caribbean music with its vocal melodies and harmonies. An hour had passed by the time Animal Collective vacated the stage and left their audience victim to an impending ear raping of epic proportions by Kings of Leon. Sure, Animal Collective didn't play "Peacebone" or "Banshee Beat" or "Who Could Win A Rabbit," but they did manage to play what was, in my mind, the most engaging live set I have ever seen and in a full hour of music, without any breaks for tuning or schmoozing with the audience, left me feeling a stirring combination of ravenous for more and incredibly fulfilled. I know I'll be seeing them again next time they play in New York, hopefully this time for a longer amount of time.
Setlist:House/Bearhug/Daily Routine/Lion in a Coma/Comfy In Nautica/Lablakely Dress/Fireworks/Essplode/Fireworks/Brother Sport.