Review & Photos: Animal Collective Make New Hampshire Debut
Words & Images by: Andrew Bruss
Animal Collective :: 2.20.2016 :: 3S Artspace :: Portsmouth, NH
Animal Collective‘s first-ever performance in the state of New Hampshire easily met the expectations of a crowd that sold out Portsmouth’s 3S Artspace months in advance and demonstrated to many in attendance why their live performance is the best it has been in a decade.
With Josh “Deakin” Dibb sitting this round out, the trio of Dave “Avey Tare” Portner, Noah “Panda Bear” Lennox and Brian “Geologist” Weitz took the stage accompanied by Jeremy Hyman, drummer in Portner’s side project, Avey Tare’s Slasher Flicks. Cloaked in a seabed of multicolored projections and flanked by sculptures that look like they were stolen from the set of Legends Of The Hidden Temple, the Collective blew through a set almost entirely consisting of material off of Painting With, their most recent album released less than a week prior.
Their other performances in the Northeast on this leg of the tour are taking place in venues with a capacity in the thousands so playing for 400 people at 3S Artspace provided one of the most intimate settings for an Animal Collective gig than you can get in 2016. The stage was barely two feet above the floor and without a barrier between it and the crowd, the fusion of the performers with their audience felt stronger than you often get to see with an act with the commercial draw of Animal Collective.
For the first time in their career, Animal Collective went into the studio to record material they had never played live and since this was only the second show of the tour, their New Hampshire audience hadn’t had an opportunity to hear the material.
Portner recently told JamBase, “You’ll be hearing the songs from the record with the same instrumentation. I think the openness and the free form aspect will begin to manipulate and stretch itself out,” and he was true to his word.
While the verses and chorus’ sounded almost identical to the studio product, the material was augmented by segments between the different parts of the songs that allowed them to experiment and stretch their legs out on their new material.
Even veteran gear hounds will find it to be next to impossible to ascertain what the band is actually doing on stage and the fact that the majority of their equipment wasn’t visible to their audience didn’t help matters. With that said, Geologist seemed to be keeping with his “Effects Guy” reputation, manipulating signals with a Moog synthesizer, a few delay pedals and who knows what else.
Panda Bear and Avey Tare both took on vocal duties in a way that forced their harmonies to compete against each other while perfectly accommodating their other half. Avey Tare was the only member of the group with a traditional keyboard but he also had an array of tools on stage, a few of which he periodically hovered and swayed a microphone over. As for Panda Bear, his setup was nearly identical to the one he has used as a solo performer, in addition to a vocal synthesizer that allowed him to manipulate Tare’s vocals. There wasn’t a single stringed instrument on stage the entire night.
In light of the multitude of channels the band utilized to execute their production, it wouldn’t have taken much for the whole show to sound like mud being stirred at the bottom of a pool. With that said, thanks to a venue with superb acoustics and a production crew in a class of its own, every single instrument channel could be heard clearly and independently of the others, a feat that is both technically impressive and a prerequisite for appreciating their multilayered sound.
You can call Animal Collective an indie act, a rock band, or an electronica group, and while they use the same tools as acts that fall under those banners, they have a very different objective. This is a group that is driven by an internal engine that seeks to not only continuously evolve their sound, but to introduce their audience to sounds that have never been heard. They aren’t the first to cross live instrumentation with digital effects but the spirit behind their experimentation is more akin the ground broken by Brian Eno, Pioneer Prince of Ambient Music, or minimalist composers such as Philip Glass than artists like The Mars Volta, LCD Soundsystem, Disclosure or Break Science.
More than anything, what Animal Collective proved on their first trip through New Hampshire is that they have no contemporaries. They are entirely in a class of their own.