I realized last night that you never see Animal Collective drink onstage other than a sip of water here and there — a seemingly forgettable detail that’s actually really telling of the type of show they put on these days. They’re not there to party or to congratulate themselves for unexpectedly becoming the saviors of today’s indie-rock scene despite regularly building songs out of weirdo chants and giving them names like "Who Could Win a Rabbit." Tonight, Avey dances (he looks kinda like a kid throwing a temper tantrum) and Deakin, back from a two-year hiatus from the band, continually hops around while playing guitar, but they’re taking things pretty seriously, all things considered.
They don't have all that much of a choice, really. Having written songs that spill all over the place, they're not afforded the luxury of over-excitement or the carefreeness of some lo-fi pop band. Through the course of the night, they're hard at work creating the sounds, rarely getting credit for how careful they are with details along the way. Take, for instance, the stage set: What could be described as a wrecked spaceship that might also be underwater, they play amidst a fortress of kryptonite-looking crystal structures, a looming skull whose eyes and mouth doubled as video projectors, and streamers of fish, octopus, bats and/or birds (can't really tell) — all of which, true to Animal Collective’s aesthetic, look to be somewhat crudely made, as if part of an eighth-grade school play. Or, better yet, the music: I remember reading an interview with Meric Long of The Dodos where he talked about changing his plans to record solo after going to an Animal Collective show and seeing how much can happen organically when a band plays together in real time. Their songs have a million moving parts — a million opportunities for something new to happen every time they're played, making it easy to overlook the subtle nuances, though they're there in bulk. On one of the new tracks, one of the only ones that came from Panda Bear all night, there’s a sample that sounds like a raindrop falling. You might think it's an afterthought, but it falls and rises throughout the song in an intricate pattern, corresponding with the blinking lights in the kryptonite. It's all in the details.
These are the moments during the show where everything is as I hoped, and I momentarily forget — as much as I hate to say it, and as much as it sounds like a cliche comment on BrooklynVegan — that the whole thing resembles a frat party where thousands of hot, sweaty bodies are crammed under a suffocating cloud of smoke (plus, there are mosquitos; lots of mosquitos). This new post-Merriweather fan contingent is a reality of seeing Animal Collective these days, we just have to face it. The band certainly didn't pander to this new sect last night — I mean, they're not going to play a succession of hits, especially between album cycles, we should know this by now — and if this show was any indication, their next album won't either.
For a lot of us, the fun of seeing them live is to detect the first familiar snippet (the whirring guitars of "Did You See the Words," Avey's crazed yelps on "We Tigers," etc., both welcome returns to their live repertoire now that Deakin's back) and see what direction they take them this time. In defense of the bros, there's a collective rush at the first decipherable notes of "Brother Sport" and "Summertime Clothes" that can't be beat.
But for the band, live shows have always been a place to experiment, to find out what works and what doesn't. Last night was essentially rehearsal for their next album. Avey will be the star on this one, with him taking up vocals on nearly every song and nailing the same heavy heartedness of last year's Down There (even with all the vocal reverb, you're able to make out phrases like, "I'm on my own"). Songs are guitar-heavy, not particularly concerned with melody, and the one played in the encore will be their hit, if there's any justice in the world. Then the cycle begins again.