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December 11, 2009 | by  | in Arts Music |
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Animal Collective: Live at the Powerstation 08/12/2009

I’m not much of a materialist. My room is a relatively spartan place: some clothes hang from a rail, a few pictures sit on the wall, there’s a desk in one corner, and a shelf full of books in another. All in all, it’s a pretty basic living space, so it goes without saying that my sleek aluminium MacBook stands out from everything else in it. I use it all the time, and it probably cost me more than the rest of my stuff put together. But perhaps my favourite possession is my battered 1980’s Sharp GF-8989 ghettoblaster: Susie Boom. She’s got plenty of character thanks to her flashing LED lights, her punchy low-end thud and her crackling speakers, which can instantly breath life into even the coldest 320kbps MP3. Once connected to my MacBook via a $12 AUX cable from Dick Smiths, these two objects merge familiar retro sensibilities with the limitless potential of the digital. I hope this metaphor doesn’t come across as trite, but I think it explains why the music of Animal Collective is so remarkable. Harmony, warmth, tribal percussion, bright melodies and communal vocals are their manifestations of the familiar. [Insert Brian Wilson reference here]. Simultaneously, a blend of home-made samples, weird effects and digital spatterworks ensures that Animal Collective’s aesthetic will always be a world away from the age-old guitar/drums/bass/vocals paradigm.

Their set at the Powerstation in Auckland also owed much of its success to this new/old meld. Various assorted samplers, EQs and effects pedals surrounded the three members of the band. These high-tech gizmos were used to create twinkling digital soundscapes, transforming the large venue into a strange sonic land, where almost anything seemed possible. Songs flowed into each other, with watery effects and synthesized arpeggios producing a consistent, and mesmerizing, canvass. The opener, ‘In Flowers’ was a case in point. The sound of its first samples silenced the riotous applause that marked the start of the bands set, which soon burst into life following the arrival of Geologist’s beating drum machine and a rousing first up vocal performance from Avey Tare. And before the last blissful notes could completely fade away, a new set of samples and beats had morphed into their place, signifying the beginning of the next song.

The setlist consisted primarily of the highlights from the band’s annus mirabilis (‘Daily Routine’, ‘Summertime Clothes’, ‘Guys Eyes’ and the superlative new single ‘What Would I Want? Sky’ all featured), interspersed with the occasional old favourite (a subdued take on ‘Who Could Win a Rabbit’, a manic ‘Slippi’ from Here Comes the Indian, and a mass singalong to Panda Bear’s ‘Comfy in Nautica’). Stationed between the more static pair of Geologist and Panda Bear, Avey Tare (who was spared of the responsibility of manning the electronics tables, and instead switched between vocals, guitar, synth and live percussion) was the focal point during most of Animal Collective’s set, until Panda Bear totally stole the show during an extended take of ‘Fireworks’. He went absolutely ballistic on a set of toms, whipping the crowd into a frenzied spell of dancing which continued throughout ‘Slippi’, before peaking during the inclusive tribalisms of ‘Brothersport’ in a scene reminiscent of the Ruby Suns’ already legendary set at Camp A Low Hum earlier this year. This proved to be the end of Animal Collective’s setlist proper, but the band returned for a subdued encore rendition of ‘Bleed’ (from the new Fall Be Kind EP) before finally delivering the moment that all but the most blinkered hardcore fan had been waiting for: ‘My Girls’. Leading the crowd through a truly euphoric singalong, Lennox’s voice (ably supported by Avey on backing vocals) repeated those indelible lines (“There isn’t much that I feel I need / A solid soul and the blood I bleed…”) over and over again, against a backdrop of shimmering electronics and danceable bass beats. The delights of their limitless experimentalism, the beauty of those soaring tenor voices. Together, they marked the night as magical.

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  1. Al Gangbang says:

    anything… criticial? at all? It was all pwerfect?

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