Live review: Animal Collective at Metro
The Animal Collective show at the Metro Thursday night had been sold out for weeks. Tickers were going for $100 online, and opportunistic frauds were rampant. The band formally released its ninth album, Merriweather Post Pavilion, a few days earlier, but for weeks if not months many had already been heralding the disc as the likely best album of 2009. How could any band possibly live up the hype?
The answer is that it couldn't, though in Animal Collective's case it had less to do with the high expectations than the trio's disappointing failure to even try to meet them. It's true that you can't listen to a light show, but at the same time the band, mostly hunched over samplers, sequencers and tangled piles of patch cords, didn't offer much to latch onto. The trio of Avey Tare (David Portner), Panda Bear (Noah Lennox) and Geologist (Brian Weitz) sometimes lurched, occasionally bobbed, but none of the three exuded anything close to actual charisma. That left the set (heavy on the new record but including a few older selections as well, such as "Leaf House" and "Slippi") in dire need of some visual stimulants to balance out the chaotic swirl of the band's echoing, bong-filtered sound.
The problem wasn't the songs, per se – Animal Collective has plenty of them, and several great ones, too. But once that many machines are involved, recreating what you locked down a year earlier in the studio just isn't that impressive, no matter how exciting you make pressing buttons and hitting a few drums seem. Even more frustrating, the muddy mix magnified some of the band's more annoying psychedelic TMBG tendencies while burying many of its best attributes, overshadowing the subtle harmonies and beguiling melodies with squelching noise and other indulgent irritants.
No question, "Also Frightened" and "Summertime Clothes" are great tunes, but they were sonic messes on stage. Meanwhile, the exultant "Brothersport" felt less spontaneous and alive than the recorded version, which is never a good sign. Panda Bear's "My Girls" was certainly awesome, living up to its potential as an unlikely club jam, as was his encore of his solo track "Comfy in Nautica." But his "Daily Routine" was a dull and deadly momentum killer that could have used a home movie or two flickering behind the band, if not a bank of lasers, to liven things up.
The crowd, for its part, never seemed less than completely enthralled, but there was nonetheless an emperor's-new-clothes air about the evening. For a group riding such a huge wave of ever-mounting excitement, Animal Collective simply didn't rise to the occasion. Anyone expecting something transcendent no doubt went home with the nagging suspicion that for all the hype and hosannas, Animal Collective were humans after all.