Live: Animal Collective at the Bowery Ballroom


Photo via Namestage

Animal Collective
The Bowery Ballroom
January 21

If at this point you’ve been exposed to the ark of Animal Collective buzz, you’ve likely already chosen to side with them or against them; as in the case of black licorice and Brooklyn Vegan message boards, it’s less about middling judgments than extreme fanaticism. Pro- and con-. More philosophically labyrinthine – and, frankly, fun — would be the whys, the whats, and the hows of getting here (last night’s beyond-sold-out Bowery show, the praised-to-high-heaven new album) from there (childhood friends making four-track rackets). Hyphen-built crit snigglets like “freak-folk,” “art-fi” and “jam-band” may have once been defining (I’d argue not), but there must be something simple that could explain the phenomenon that AC’s turned into/inspired, right?

Let’s start and end with the single most important (non-gender-oriented) insight of Madonna Ciccone’s career, that “you can dance for inspiration” (a sentiment echoed in the opening moments of Merriwether Post Pavillion); then head directly to last night’s set closer and the album’s ecstatic finale, “Brother Sport.” As much as any song in the 90+ minute set, the reaction “Brother Sport” elicited from the polar confluence of “16 & under” fan-clubbers and supportive bizzers, was an exultation of physical release in rhythmic motion. Wholly appropriate for what is essentially an African techno track that beckons you to “open up your throat” and scream.

There were other moments of collective convergence. How, for instance, Geologist’s drum-machines, Panda Bear’s drumming, and Avey Tare’s guitar reconnected during a beautifully endless jam on “Fireworks,” sending a wave through the crowd; or the dub-vocal echoes Avey and Panda littered the entire set with (most obviously during a new one called “Blue Sky” on setlists), abnormal rhythmic twitches that mirrored the Bullwackie’s track the DJ played right before the band came on. All of them, and a dozen others, serving the rhythm. Now, the regulars at Santos wouldn’t go so far as to call what this crowd did in response as dancing – though I’m sure the dude who came dressed in a rabbit suit is welcomed there — but it beat the hell out of the still reverence of your average Fleet Foxes show.

And increasingly cohesive good albums be damned, with AC, it’s really the live experience that matters – not the LED lights or the (relatively) unanimated posture the trio (currently) performs with, but the opportunity to move and be moved in the moment. Carpe diem, and shit! Because every critical revisionist who now wants to invoke the Grateful Dead’s influence on whatever the hell indie-rock is turning into must note something: good Dead shows were first and foremost raucous dance parties that left you as sweaty as a good rave. If that’s where AC continues to lead their growing constituency, more power to them.–Piotr Orlov

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on January 22, 2009

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