Words and Photos by Andrew Parks
A simple question to set things off: When did Animal Collective become indie rock’s greatest cockteases? No, really; we’ve seen them at least 10 times since the fall of 2004–a truly bizarre appearance at a semi-legal art space in Philly–and still couldn’t believe how much this past weekend’s second Prospect Park show hinted at fully-formed hooks and harmonies, yet delivered nothing but, well, a masturbatory mess.
Which is strange even for indie rock’s reigning space cadets. After all, Animal Collective have always claimed there’s a method to their madness–that their wild and woolly performances are not jam sessions so much as carefully-rehearsed ‘remixes’ of a back catalog that gets stranger (and sometimes stronger) with each passing set. And that’s fine; it’s great, actually. The last thing we want to see in a live setting is pitch-perfect renditions of a record we could hear at home for free, with cheaper beer and better sound. If we wanted to witness pure musicianship and unfiltered melodies, we’d go see Grizzly Bear.
Here’s the thing, though: the against-all-odds success of Animal Collective has put them in a precarious position, one that restless artists face every time they err on the edge of accessibility. And that is whether or not to deliver what people paid for, as their concerts grow from cult gatherings at modest clubs to must-see monstrosities that drop old fans in the same field as curious frat boys and bare-chested hippies. A recipe for disaster, really. Unless you’re high. In that case, the Lego-like loops and skittering, scampering percussion of “Fireworks”–the drone-on version–and a disembodied take on “Leaf House” would suggest the work of utter geniuses.
Unfortunately, Animal Collective don’t hand out hash cakes–or whatever the hell they’re on–with every ticket purchase. If they did, we would have fallen right into the rabbit hole that was carefully (re)constructed on Saturday. Instead, we soaked up every splintered synth line and sample, letting the literal oomph of the trio’s bass-heavy tracks hit us in the chest. Beyond those subtle sensations, we watched a glassy-eyed crowd patiently wait for payoffs that never came. Save for the sunburst breaks in “My Girls” and “Summertime Clothes,” that is–brief reminders of how transcendent Animal Collective can be when they embrace their position as avant-pop auteurs we’re all supposed to care about. Deeply.
Us, we still miss the goosebump-inducing period that came right before Feels, as the band introduced the vicious/visceral approach of career peaks like “The Purple Bottle,” “Grass” and “Banshee Beat,” a song that stops us dead in our tracks every single time. Why? Because it blurs the line between utter sadness and pure joy, nailing the melancholic feeling that comes with the changing seasons and different phases of our lives, as we realize things won’t ever be the same again. Not after this night. They can’t be. That’s not how life works. And it’s not how Animal Collective works, either.
Animal Collective @ Prospect Park, 8.15.09:
2. Summertime Clothes
3. Leaf House
4. Guys Eyes
7. Also Frightened
8. What Would I Want Sky
9. My Girls
11. Brother Sport
12. In The Flowers
13. Comfy In Nautica
14. Lion in a Coma