On September 23rd, 2012 Animal Collective traveled southward from Oakland California to Los Angeles to play their fifth show in as many days on their current U.S. tour to promote their new album Centipede Hz. They descended upon the Hollywood Bowl with a barrage of light and sound but not before opening acts Huun Hur Tu (a native music band from Tuva, a country on the Russian-Mongolian border) and Flying Lotus made their very different presences known to the packed Hollywood crowd. Centipede Hz and the subsequent tour finds Animal Collective back as a quartet with the reintegration of Deakin (Josh Dibb), the elusive fourth member of the group. This was my first time seeing Animal Collective live so needless to say I was very excited and although I’ve watched many videos of their concerts online in the past, for the most part I didn’t know what to expect. Frankly, I was a bit concerned that they would be burnt out by the time they reached Los Angeles on the 23rd because in the 4 days leading up to the 23rd they played a show every night. Starting in Vancouver, Canada on the 18th and working their way down the Pacific northwest, playing a gig every night, and with the exception of 2 nights in Oakland, traveling to a different city every night. Finally on the 23rd they would play their last show before getting a one day break from their grueling fall tour schedule. This was the show I saw.
As far as I am concerned, Animal Collective are at their best when Avey Tare (David Portner) and Panda Bear (Noah Lennox) are harmonizing their contrasting singing voices into an aural flow that creates an aesthetic blend in which it actually becomes difficult to distinguish one voice from the other. With that in mind, try to imagine my excitement and elation when they open up with “Also Frightened,” a song that features vocals from both Lennox and Portner throughout and one of my all time favorites. The richness of the live incarnation of “Also Frightened” was enhanced all the more when Deakin also threw in some vocals on the “but heeeeeeeey” breaks of the song, prompting me to raise both arms straight in the air in an attempt to cope with and capture the amazing sounds I was hearing. “Also Frightened” was an excellent lead in to the ethereal dream-scape that would be the rest of the concert. It segued nicely into “Applesauce” the first of the seven cuts off of Centipede Hz they would play throughout the night. After the bludgeoning drum and screeching vocal climax of “Applesauce” lowered to a close, Avey Tare picked up a guitar and Deakin put his down to perform the first Animal Collective track on which he sings lead vocals, “Wide Eyed.” Deakin sang his nostalgic contribution to Centipede Hz in a slightly flat vocal tone but over all it was executed pleasingly. He even added a couple yelps in between lines that have become signatures of Animal Collective live sets. Then Deakin picked his barirone guitar back up and Avey Tare sat back down at his keyboard rig to play the first single off of Centipede Hz, “Today’s Supernatural.” As most first singles off of a new album are, this was an obvious crowd-pleaser and was highlighted by Tare’s guttural screaming of the line “you find something you believe that you should do!” The Hollywood Bowl collectively (no pun intended) gave a rising howl at this and grooved onto the rest of the song. At this point the set list…gets a little fuzzy (clears throat) so I can’t remember the exact order after their 4th song. Though I may not be able to recall much of the order, I do know exactly which songs were played throughout the night. Animal Collective played a 14 song set that included 7 tracks from Centipede Hz (“Today’s Supernatural,” “Applesauce,” “Amanita,” “New Town Burnout,” “Wide Eyed,” “Pulleys,” “Monkey Riches”) 4 tracks off of Merriweather Post Pavilion (“Lion In a Coma,” “Also Frightened,” “Brothersport,” “My Girls”) 1 track from Strawberry Jam (“Peacebone”) 1 track of the Water Curses EP (“Cobwebs”) and 1 track from the Honeycomb single (“Honeycomb”)
The set list as a whole was surprisingly accessible. For the myriad of challenging, super-psychedelic, and K-hole inducing songs Animal Collective has at their disposal, they played an almost entirely popular set. In fact the only real exception I can think of was “Cobwebs.” Although “Pulleys” and “New Town Burnout” may fade into obscurity in the future, for now they are included in the album that the band is touring to promote, so no real surprise there no matter how unpopular. The quartet played most of the crowd-pleasers including of course, the sonically epic, “Brothersport.” Panda Bear took the lead vocals behind his drum kit (which he was behind the entire night) for this one while Tare provided the accentuating, echo vocals that make this song such a fun experience. Panda Bear took some beautiful liberties with his singing, (particularly the “don’t grow too much inside” line) letting his voice wander within the scale with Brian Wilsonesque flight. And during the infamous breakdown/buildup portion of the song, Portner and Lennox drove the crowd into a near frenzy as they belted out dueling, alternating screams that rose and fell until the glorious breakdown signal came and they sang out to Lennox’s little brother “Matt!” This performance of “Brothersport” was among the most brilliant I have ever seen but I think it ended on a miscue. They seemed a little out of sequence with Panda Bear still making some sounds when the rest of the band was drawing the music to an ambiguous close, but of course this is Animal Collective we’re talking about and one song almost always drones inconspicuously into the next so who can really tell? Surprisingly the song they played immediately after “Brothersport” was the song that elicited the most reaction from the crowd; that song, believe it or not, was “Peacebone.” Anyone who was sitting in their seats up to that point got up and began bobbing their heads to the manic, synthesized intro to “Peacebone” that is the sonic equivalent of having a million ants crawl over your body. Portner got up from behind his keyboard and took the microphone in his hand- for the first and final time in the concert he was free to bob and wander across the stage at his leisure. Deakin also began bouncing on his ankles, kicking his legs out in front of him (awesome move by the way) and dancing to the beat with his guitar in hand banging out the single chord that makes up the verse of the song. In fact, “Peacebone” was the song during which the band became the most animated; with Geologist finally swaying himself into a full on dance. Avey Tare jolted and convulsed his body with spastic screams of “adjust your! (insides)” and gave an intense screaming performance during the songs break that evoked a roar of elated approval from the entire venue.
Animal Collective continued to play to the crowd by performing what is sure to become the most acclaimed song from their new album “Monkey Riches.” The opening sounds were highlighted by Avey Tare yelling something into the mic. It sounded to me like “stand!” so I thought it was a plea to the stagnant minority of the crowd to stand up. As if Avey were saying, “hey come on you can get up now, we’re playing the big hit.” Whether it really was a plea for animation or not, Deakin sure took it as one because he was dancing and roaming all around the stage during “Monkey Riches” while playing his guitar parts. While “Monkey Riches” was a treat to hear, it didn’t get the crowd going as much as “Peacebone” or “Lion In a Coma.” The latter song provoked a lot of bouncing from the spectators and seemingly everyone sang along as loud as they could with the “this wilderness up in my head” line. As it is on record, “Lion In a Coma” was exhilarating live. It dropped off into “Cobwebs” which was definitely more listened to than interacted with by the crowd. “Pulleys” was also played at some point during the concert to minimal fan fare, in fact it was the only time during the entire concert that I sat down. Hearing “Honeycomb” was a pleasant surprise more than anything else, but it seemed like it was appreciated, if not lauded, by the true diehards in the crowd. Then the regular set ended with, you guessed it, “My Girls.” The opening synth notes were immediately recognized and the air was at once tinged with excitement and a feeling that the entire amassed crowd was now lighter than air. Lennox and Portner once again collaborated voices for the finale and the performance of “My Girls” was everything one would hope it to be. Complete with Lennox’s trademark over-emphasized, hard “T” sounds (sounds like: “I just wan-TUH!) and Portners crowd exploding “Oooooh!” The crowd could be easily heard over the blaring P.A. singing along to every “I don’t mean…” break, and erupting into dance as soon as the drums kicked back in. It was a riot.
That concluded their regular set. As the music was dying down Avey Tare remarked to the crowd “thanks a lot for having us” and all four members walked off stage-right. The crowd naturally began chanting for an encore and it didn’t take more than a minute for all four members to return to their stations on stage. They played a few more songs and finally ended their show the same way they chose to end Centipede Hz (pronounced Hertz)…with “Amanita.” The first thing I noticed about the live version of this song was that it was lacking the “Oh oh oh oh” backing vocals in the verse. That may be an odd thing to notice but to be honest, I missed it. Especially since it could be easily sung by Portner himself and even more easily sung by Lennox or Dibb who do not sing on the track at all. That simple accent adds a dimension that drives the mournful first half of the song and makes it more enjoyable. The song went on, bodies were moving, and then the concert ended with the big, jubilant flourish of Amanita’s second half. The encore was over, the band walked off the stage without a word, the house lights were raised and people were snapped back into reality.
For me, my first Animal Collective show was bitter-sweet. On the one hand my fears were confirmed- after four straight days of playing shows the band didn’t seem to want to play for too long. On the other hand, the show, for however long it lasted, was sonically and visually amazing. It was a great experience and it was just what I needed: a fun time that cut me off from the rest of the world. The show, after all was said and done, was awesome but I was definitely left wanting more. More songs that is. They only played 14 songs and that’s including the encore. 14 songs is barely one album. I don’t know if it was their choice to play only 14 songs, or if they are too small a band to afford that much stage time at the Hollywood Bowl, but I certainly hope it is the latter. Maybe that is the average length of an Animal Collective show, I don’t know. Maybe the band are stretching themselves too thin as far as touring goes. Or maybe I am just asking too much, but considering their incredibly extensive catalog of songs and the passion of their fan base, I would have expected a longer set. That is not to say that they played their 14 songs in a lackluster manner, much to the contrary, their performance was professional, top notch, and filled with spirit. It was an unreal hour and a half or so, I just wish it lasted longer. Another thing to consider is that bands typically feed off the energy of the crowd so when the pit seats at the Hollywood Bowl are filled with old, yuppy, Bowl season ticket holders who sit for the entire show and and do nothing but gawk at the spectacle in front of them (just search youtube for footage of this concert date from the vantage point of the fans who had primo seats) I imagine it must be a bit easier to call it an early night. Considering the aforementioned situation, Animal Collective actually went above and beyond the call of duty. And yes I will definitely see them again and would recommend any fan to do the same. Despite the short set list, this was a spectacular show. The great hits were played, and the obscure surprises pleased the true fans. The crowd was made to dance, trip, contemplate, awe, sing, and smile in a space where time disappeared and all that existed was a surreal dream, the kind of impossibly happy dream that no one wants to wake up from.