Panda Bear/Gala Drop/Teengirl Fantasy
Water Taxi Beach at Governors Island
Saturday, September 11
Better Than: Watching cable news, on this day in particular
He makes a hell of a racket, Panda Bear, a one-man maelstrom of stabbing synth washes, hammering-heartbeat basslines, prismatic bursts of pastoral trance-pop loveliness, and loads and loads of echo echo echo echo echo, but as overpowering and overbusy and borderline unpleasant as all that racket can be, it never overpowers his voice, a voice so forceful and yearning and compelling you wish he’d knock the rest of that shit off. He’s a man in need of a freak power outage. On, unfortunately, the last night we want a freak anything.
So here we are on Governors Island, PB’s Animal Collective cohort Avey Tare DJing between sets (alongside Andy Beta!), mashing Frank Sinatra into Burial, Daft Punk into Steely Dan, a column of light rising from Ground Zero across the water, daring you to come up with some terrible metaphor. It is a night for shy men and their wonderful machines. The two-man dreamy dance-pop crew Teengirl Fantasy get us started, earning their band name via wanton overstimulation: shades of reggae, house, twee pop, Madonna’s “Holiday,” etc. etc. etc. At their most manic it sounds like five Passion Pit songs playing on top of each other. They are mostly anti-charismatic save a touch of trance-DJ corniness I can’t decide if I want more or less of. One fewer Passion Pit song and this is super groovy.
And after a super-long set by Portuguese psych-rock band Gala Drop (perhaps they met Mr. Bear at a Lisbon block party or something), here comes the man himself, electric guitar slung on his shoulder, semi-hiding behind as much gear as one guy can credibly operate at one time. The 100-layer-electro-pastoral-pop burrito thing has its charms: His new “Tomboy” shows up early, a few angry-sounding power chords giving it form and drive; his songs are better the more they sound like temper tantrums, particularly “Song for Ariel,” wherein he bellows “I want what I want what I want what I want what I want” until you’re ready to give it him already.
It all just starts to blur together garishly after a half-hour or so, though there’s rarely not a sweet, simple tune buried under there, and he’s much better at keeping it at least faintly audible: Even at his worst it only sounds like, say, two Passion Pit songs and a Bruce Hornsby song playing on top of each other. And his voice, as always, will rescue both him and you, huge and brassy, traces of both Thom Yorke and Rufus Wainwright, selling his more grandiose drama and doing major damage the softer and sweeter and simpler his backdrop gets: “Ponytail,” the slight, painfully delicate closer to his rapturously praised Person Pitch, is the exception that makes the rule bearable. As for the rest, just do what you do when you’re drunk: Find something in the room and stare at it until the room stops spinning. If there’s anyone who can prove that the lie of “Doing more with less” isn’t necessarily always a lie, it’s this guy. Pull a few cords out of the wall and he’d be unstoppable.
Personal Bias: The sample of the dude crying during “Bros” (which he didn’t play) always freaks me out.
The Crowd: Bros.
Overheard: “These shoes are not good for sand,” she said, emptying about a pound of it onto the floor of the water taxi.