Friday, March 24, 2006

Animal Collective, 3.23.06, Webster Hall

by Charlotte Deaver

Attracted. Repulsed. Charmed. Annoyed. Curious. Bored. All night, I couldn't decide. No, I could decide, but only for a moment, and then I'd all of a sudden flip to the opposite view.

When we walked in the first band, (Nix Noltes) was stretched in a long line across the stage, each musician banging his or her head up and down in self-satisfactory showmanship (or some other autoerotic maneuver). They seemed very pleased with themselves, and at times I could see why. But then they said goodnight and I was glad.

Twenty minutes later, however, they were still playing their Bulgarian accordion-and-tuba-enhanced wedding music, and I was confused. I looked around to see if others were with them, if I was just missing something. Were people happy that the band they didn't come to see was doing a four hour encore without being asked and without ever having left the stage? At one point I looked at my friend and asked, "should we be angry?" "No, No," he answered quickly, as if just a little worried I might make a scene.

Finally, it was over, and the next band meandered on stage, one instrument at a time. I don't know Animal Collective well, and I was open to being taken in. The music began seductively: a pulsing synthetic beat, dense chords sustained by abundant reverb and distortion, and layer upon layer of amorphous electronic sounds. It was compelling media, if nothing else.

But it was something else. Not quite rock and roll, it wasn't song-oriented either (unlike the CDs), since each piece, in electronica fashion, blended in with the next, so that it was never obvious when one song ended or another began. This psychedelic swirl, punctuated by delay-laden yelps sometimes masquerading as melodies, worked magically when all four band members chanted, barked, and growled together, as if after a large feeding. When they assumed their ritualistic, forest animal positions, synched up their echoes perfectly, and pounded out a strong, dark beat, attraction was operating. I would vacillate, though, between sensing something almost entrancingly predatory about them, and something utterly benign. When they were off, for instance, they just came across as four tantrummy, suburban boys, and repulsion loomed.

Never settling enough into tribal mode, my (mysterious) friend and I left after half an hour or forty-five minutes, a little, I think, relieved. I had a great if unsteady time, but would have liked it better had I been challenged more, and been conflicted not because of a band's sloppiness and annoying qualities (like the miner's Cyclops headlight worn by one of the Animals, or the excessive hair-waving by the Nix Noltes), but because of strengths that were simply unfamiliar to me. The demands of the (rock) genre can become tiresome, and while both these bands play music that is outside of that genre, and therefore disregard those demands to a degree, they are still hoping for, yet only occasionally achieve, the same effect.



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