Pitchfork Music Festival 2011, Friday: Animal Collective
Snorkeling in the muck is no fun; it's much better to be in clear water where you can see the weird wonderful underwater world. Shake hands with an anemone, talk politics with a barracuda and have a laugh with a clown fish. Animal Collective’s last major album Merriweather Post Pavilion was a catchy collection covered in murk and mud. Well, not even that catchy once you got underneath the gunky sound. It made me, a fan of the band’s earlier raucous and wildly experimental records, wonder if the band was sputtering out and hiding its lack of inspiration in blah production. Still, there were a few tunes on it that kept my hope alive.
But with its performance at Pitchfork Music Festival 2011, the Marylanders showed what a vivid, colorful act it can be. The Flaming Lips may lay claim to being the indie nation’s space explorers but Animal Collective are our sonic Jacques Cousteaus (or Zissous, if you are twee that way).
Tonight, the spazzy and multi-faceted Animal Collective I saw years ago at Open End was back. While the band surrounded itself in crystalline props, which changed colors under black-lights throughout the set, it maintained the underwater conceit throughout. Between epic songs infused with crazy left-turns, which played up the band’s capacity for tremendous dynamics, the quartet twiddled and coaxed gurgling sounds out of its gear. Guitars and keyboards were manipulated, tweaked beyond recognition—but the sounds always served the songs. But Animal Collective’s newfound asset should not be unexpected, but really is: Avey Tare’s voice, which screamed and yelped amazingly, but sounded more involved, more emotive than it has in some time. It was as if Animal Collective suddenly acquired a proper lead singer—albeit one that sits at the end of the stage, wears a fluorescent baseball hat and sits behind synthesizers most of the set.
Amid crystals borrowed from Superman’s Fortress of Solitude and trippy, digital acid art on the Jumbotron, Animal Collective played up the dissociating, trippy aspects of its body-shaking tunes. But with a newly expansive sound (that makes MPP sound anemic), the guys filled the park and packed the main field with festgoers. The props also had an unintended consequence of making the band even harder to see from the VIP area than it normally would be. Not a bad thing, really.
While the band’s set drew heavily from MPP, the songs (“Taste” for instance and later in the set, “Summertime Clothes”) seemed invigorated, reworked and fleshed-out from touring. The set drew from deeper in the catalog. “Did You See the Words” from Feels found the band at the height of its powers. An apparent new song, “A Long Time Ago,” has been in the band’s festival set all 2011.
At one point the black lights turned the band’s white crystal props to a weird chartreuse. Kryptonite only makes these super arty anti-rockers that much stronger.