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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Animal Collective @ The Riverside Theater

May 19, 2009

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Stability isn’t a word in Animal Collective’s dictionary. From Dave Portner and Noah Lennox’s Baltimore freak-folk beginnings on 2000’s Spirit They’re Gone, Spirit They’ve Vanished to the band’s breakthrough and “poppiest” album at the time, 2004’s Sung Tongs, and the instant classic that is 2009’s Merriweather Post Pavilion, a record that makes Sung Tongs sound obscure, Animal Collective reinvents themselves with each outing.

With all three members behind synthesizers, as Merriweather’s trippy cover art lined the stage’s background while a hanging, giant white orb projected thoughtful images, Portner (aka Avey Tare), Lennox (Panda Bear) and Weitz (Geologist) resembled dance club DJs at Tuesday’s sold-out show at the Riverside Theater. Their opener, “In The Flowers,” even repeatedly declared, “We will dance.” Yet the crowd didn’t follow the band's command until the rambunctious, Afro-Caribbean “Brother Sport,” the group’s first set closer, which surprisingly energized the audience more than the back-to-back favorites “My Girls” and “Summertime Clothes.” It seemed the trio wanted nothing to do with these songs, both of which were sped through, giving more time to experiment with deeper Merriweather cuts like “Daily Routine” and “Guys Eyes.” The group spliced Strawberry Jam’s “Fireworks" and Danse Manatee’s “Essplode” into an unswerving rock epic, a staple of their live performances since ’07, and morphed most every song into the next.

As an ode to dedicated fans, the encore of “Banshee Beat,” Panda Bear’s “Comfy in Nautica,” from his 2007 album Person Pitch, and “Leaf House” irritated some Animal Collective newbies, signifying the crux the group will face in forthcoming years. Do they abandon their older, free-form material and their early, ardent followers for their modern, structured psychedelic dance pop? Or will Merriweather be a steppingstone for newer fans? In a recent interview, Weitz compared Merriweather to Pavement's Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, as the latter "made sense" to him as a 14-year-old grunge admirer whereas earlier Pavement records confused him. But as Stephen Malkmus' gang grew on Weitz, he was able to see the stylistic distinctions between previous albums. It's not certain whether new fans will follow Weitz's path, but one thing’s almost absolute: Animal Collective won't stay entrenched in Merriweather's style of electronic pop for long, making Tuesday night an ephemeral delight.


Set List

"In the Flowers"
"Guys Eyes"
"What Would I Want Sky"
"My Girls"
"Summertime Clothes"
"Bleed"
"Daily Routine"
"Lablakely Dress"
"Fireworks"/"Essplode"
"Who Could Win A Rabbit"
"Brother Sport"

Encore

"Banshee Beat"
Panda Bear’s "Comfy in Nautica"
"Leaf House"

Photo credit: CJ Foeckler

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