- World’s best photograher, thank you very much
There was a time not long ago when it seemed that Animal Collective would be eternally immune from significant critical backlash. The praises for Merriweather Post Pavilion were sung loud and wide; it was put on regular rotation in frat houses and nerdy rockists’ turntables alike. But after three years of buildup, talk of their new album, Centipede Hz, dissolved in a relative blink of an eye, its general reception boiled down to one communal shrug despite it including its share of watershed moments. The band’s big summer soiree at Williamsburg Park was not sold out before co-frontman Dave “Avey Tare” Portner fell to a bout of laryngitis and the band was forced to cancel. Word has it that their first make-up date at Terminal 5 on Tuesday wasn’t full to the brim, and the top tier balcony was closed off at last night’s show, despite a comfortably packed floor and mezzanine. “Oh, how the mighty have fallen,” seemed to be the general sentiment surrounding their appearances this week.
But everyone has it wrong.
Here are a few reasons why:
At the end of a set heavy on Avey-fronted tracks—it wasn’t until about an hour into the show that Panda Bear took the reins with his slow-motion “New Town Burnout”—Portner comes to center stage, for once untethered by his keyboards and guitar, and starts in on dinosaur jam “Peacebone.” It’s weird to see him not behind an instrument, even weirder that he decided to dye his hair beach blond, and yet even weirder that it looks as if he’s in the throes of a temper tantrum, but also sorta skanking, as he puts his vocal chords on the line to scream a series of non sequiturs with every ounce of his being. He eventually lies on the ground and runs out of breath. It was the first time I’ve seen a member of Animal Collective lose themselves in the show in a physical, not just vocal-yelp, manner. Back when the conversation revolved around Sung Tongs, there wasn’t a review out there that didn’t make note of the band’s “childlike” sense of melody and adventure—they were up for giving anything a try, not thinking too much about the result (see: Portner’s hindsight reflections on “Who Could Win a Rabbit”). Watching Portner bellow from his insides, that blond head bopping around, that childlike aura returned.
2. “Brother Sport”
It is possible that people love this song even more than “My Girls” and, as such, will begin to dance at the first sign of its tribal thump, so that witnessing it live becomes the sort of communal experience that the movies always portray concerts as being—a huge mass of people singularly devoted to throwing their arms into the air and tossing their hair around—until Panda and Portner’s call-and-response trails on so obsessively and intensely that you swear their heads might start to spin off, at which point it would become a very different movie.
The back half of just-released B-Side “Crimson” wiggles into sadness so heartbreakingly, it’s one of the unassuming high marks of the band’s catalog and should be listened to intensely on repeat. It’s a helluva way to start a show too, even if a large part of the audience seems slightly underwhelmed.
4. “Today’s Supernatural”
In press materials for Centipede Hz, the band discusses the impact that being in the physical presence of each other during recording had on the product. For the first time in years, they were corralled into the studio rather than scattered around the world. A certain closeness has always translated into their live show—the kind of thing that happens naturally when you’ve played music together with the same group of people since high school—but there was a higher level of kinetic energy going on with this new material. They sounded as tight as ever last night, playing tracks like “Today’s Supernatural” with punch, trimming away all other extended meanderings other than outros bleeding into intros. Per usual, their stage set is a multifaceted result of head-scratching decisions: an inflatable archway engulfing a projection screen that at one point rolls footage of cartoon clocks. And of course there is a set of inflatable teeth surrounding the entire installment, nodding to the open mouth on Centipede Hz‘ cover. Of course. A rainbow of lights constantly switch up the color scheme. At any given moment, there are a million moving points to the show—a million opportunities for some mark to be missed—and Animal Collective manages to connect them, always.