There’s something ferocious in Animal Collective’s live performance that is only hinted at in their recordings. The intense and somewhat surprising show that the sometimes alternative, often bizarre but always entertaining group gave last Tuesday at the Blind Pig made this fact abundantly clear. Playing to the late-teen and twentysomething crowd that typifies the Pig, the They Might Be Giants-meets-Sonic Youth style goofiness present on Sung Tongs in songs like “You Could Win a Rabbit” was notably absent. Instead, the band chose to emphasize the animalistic and primitive style of “We Tigers” and “Sweet Road.” In fact, “We Tigers” was the only song from their recorded repertoire that was recognizable at a concert dominated by unreleased material. The fact that no one really knew what songs were being played seemed not to matter, as the audience was treated to a performance that tried to evoke their emotions rather than get them to sing along.
It is difficult to describe Animal Collective’s sound in recording, and even more difficult to describe it live. Think Pavement and Phish performed by a Brian Wilson who thinks he’s a zoo animal, add in tribal drum beats, and you’re starting to get the idea. When lead singer Avey Tare’s propensity for unusual sound effects like birdcalls and paper scratching on the microphone are thrown in the mix, it’s hard to know what’s coming next.
Despite their eclectic style, one thing that is definite about an Animal Collective show is its volume. With a prototypical hippie on guitar, a drummer accompanied a two-piece set who calls himself “Panda Bear” and an orchestra of sound effects, the four-piece group created an atmosphere that was more a stampede than a rock concert. Little details that would usually denote an inexperienced or nervous group — such as the accidental dropping of a pick or drumstick — served only to emphasize the band’s absorption in their music. Indeed, the four seemed so possessed by their instruments that it was hard to imagine them being able to communicate outside of their performance.
When they received a warning that they had four minutes until the lights went down, the band refused to go out without a forceful climax. The final song lasted until every band member but the drummer had thrown down their instruments and become absorbed in a sort of tribal dance that, in many ways, characterized the concert. The humor that Animal Collective’s style typically adds to the experimental music scene is without a doubt one of their most impressive features, and its absence was disappointing. But despite this, the show displayed bravado and strength that was well worth the sacrifice.