I WAS THERE: Animal Collective @ Grand Ballroom, 1.20.09

Text/Photos by Andrew Parks

Sorry to get all when-I-was-a-kid on you, but Animal Collective‘s pseudo release show definitely got me thinking, “Is that it? Have these guys really moved on and mellowed out, shifting from the therapeutic, primal scream portions of ‘Peacebone,’ ‘For Reverend Green,’ ‘Grass’ and ‘The Purple Bottle’ (not to mention such early efforts as Here Comes the Indian, which was skimmed at the end of the night to the delight of old fans) to something as warm and fuzzy as Geologist’s sample banks?” While the answer’s an obvious, “Well, yeah”–as proven by the family man lyrics and gleaming, synth-swaddled peaks of Merriweather Post Pavilion–the selfish part of me wishes Animal Collective still crafted the kind of goose-bump-inducing cuts that make us all feel, well, alive. As opposed to simply mesmerized by how future-forward their songwriting is.

To understand what I mean, go scouring the ‘net for evidence of tonight’s “Fireworks” display, a twisted, extended take that held the Ballroom’s sold-out crowd in its grasp from the second its skittering loops were set into motion. Once the jam–let’s be honest: Animal Collective are our Grateful Dead, hands down–really picked up, however, nearly everyone around me looked like they were going to run to the back of the room, throw open the doors, sprint down six flights of stairs, head outside and scream “Damn, it feels good to be ALIVE!” This, as opposed to the sleepwalking sensation that trailed such new tracks as “In the Flowers” and “Daily Routine,” songs that sounded as goddamn gorgeous as Panda Bear’s own Person Pitch LP, yes, but nowhere near as vital as “Fireworks” and the many A.C. standards that are bound to be skimmed in their we-play-what-we-feel sets these days.

Again, I’m not trying to say that Tuesday’s show was a letdown; it was just–as Animal Collective shows always are–different. And as the group used us are their test subjects for what’s next, I didn’t have the faintest idea of what that might be. Because for every “My Girls”–a burst of sunshine that threatened to engulf the entire room–there was a glimpse of something much darker, as epitomized by the doom-ridden, drone-on version of “Banshee  Beat” that opened Animal Collective’s encore. From its simple, defeated declaration of “I don’t think/I love you anymore” to its creeping sense of melancholy and (eventual) bliss, the recorded version of this Feels favorite kills me every time. As for this week’s rendition, it was so murky, slowwww–literally; Avey Tare stretched his phrases so much they threatened to lose all meaning–and defiantly depressing that it made me wish the merch table sold Prozac.

Which leads me to why I think Feels is Animal Collective’s true pop opus–the closest they’ve come to finding a compromise between Brian Wilson’s Magic Kingdom and soul-scanning (or is it scarring?) psychedelia. This will all make sense a couple decades from now, when Animal Collective’s creative trajectory can be charted and overanalyzed more than Merriweather‘s already been. For now, I’m going to listen to “Did You See the Words” with my windows open despite it being 10 degrees out.

In The Flowers
Leaf House
Blue Sky
Guys Eyes
Summertime Clothes
Daily Routine
Lion in a Coma
Lablakely Dress
My Girls
Brother Sport

Banshee Beat