Does Avey Tare know how much we like him? Can we make it any more obvious? Was the guy who shouted, “I like the way your music makes me feel inside!” Friday night at the sold-out Knitting Factory show not straightforward enough? Because if he wasn’t, there was still the college-aged girl who cooed “Baby-sit me!” and the guy who followed up with, “You’re my hero!” — both catcalls directed at the modest man-boy onstage, who’s also in Animal Collective, and people really, really like Animal Collective. People also really, really like tangential Animal Collective projects, even if they do sort of drag their soul through the gutter.
One year removed from the release of his first solo album — the murky, depressing, strangely affecting Down There — Dave Portner, better known as Avey Tare, aka founding member of the aforementioned Collective, performed his first solo show in his adopted hometown of Brooklyn. “I don’t know if it’s something I want to deal with night after night again, revisiting some of the feelings that went into the record,” he had told Tiny Mix Tapes explaining his initial choice not to tour in support of it. For as much as its waterlogged sound was allegedly inspired by swamps and horror films, it’s also infused with feelings Portner was dealing with during the writing process, most notably a divorce and his sister’s battle with cancer. Over a dining room sized table full of equipment and lots and lots of wires, under the watchful eye of a skeleton Yoda, he reenacted selections — straying from Animal Collective tradition by staying largely faithful to recorded versions.
The singed beat of “Lucky 1” grinds away like it’s moving through concrete while his voice goes expectantly awry. All by his lonesome, the eccentricities that have marked his work for over a decade are put in plain sight, the songwriting equivalent of standing there naked. Keeping vocal loops to a minimum, it feels awkward to watch him exasperatedly shout “Were you crying?” into the mic 11 or 12 times, like a sane person would’ve stopped after number six. There are cheers of encouragement from the crowd to let him know we support it. Later, on a new one that sounded forged from broken video games (there were lots of new ones), he angrily sings “watching her suffer, watching her cry” to the point that he becomes out of breath. It’s a long way from 2004 Avey chanting about a rabbit with childlike wonder; even further from the guy who sung “with you, with you, with you” on Merriweather Post Pavillion.
A particularly bare, honest quality informed the set. When not occupied by all the knob turning and jiggering — an exercise in multitasking, no doubt — he jiggled his body like a little kid. At the end, he bashfully bows his head a couple times before leaving the stage: “Thanks for coming out, hope you had a good time.” A few minutes go by until the house music comes on, but the lights stay off, prompting chants for an encore. He eventually comes back out and apologetically explains that he doesn’t have anything planned, “But, really, thanks so much.” More head bowing. Avey, Brooklyn loves you. You should know that by now.