Review – Animal Collective at the Commodore, Vancouver May 24 2009
– by Alex Hudson
In Vancouver, anyone who’s anyone spent this past weekend down in Washington, taking in the Sasquatch Music Festival. The rest of us were stuck in the lousy stinkin’ Commodore Ballroom, praying that Animal Collective would make us forget about the 100+ band extravaganza taking place just a few hundred miles south.
This probably sounds a little ungrateful, especially given that Animal Collective is 2009’s undisputed blog buzz champion. Despite the Sasquatch-induced exodus, the band still managed to sell out the Commodore weeks in advance, and the crowd was teeming with excitement long before the house lights came down.
Animal Collective is currently touring as a trio, with longtime member Deakin taking a break from the group. The remaining members – Avey Tare, Panda Bear and Geologist – spent most of the night hunched over tables piled high with synthesizers. Above their heads, a huge white beach ball hung from the ceiling, serving as a screen for the psychedelic light show.
The set began with “Blue Sky”, a new song built around a sample from the Grateful Dead’s “Unbroken Chain”. A dreamy groove, it’s every bit as light and airy as its name suggests, with warm washes of synthesizer and reverb-soaked vocal harmonies. This segued into a thundering take on “Who Could Win a Rabbit?” from 2004’s Sung Tongs, which was reworked as a tribal electro rave-up.
From that point on, the set was largely comprised of cuts from this year’s Merriweather Post Pavilion, as all but three of the album’s 11 tracks were played. “Summertime Clothes” was an early highlight, its heavy beat whipping the crowd into a pogo-dancing frenzy.
In contrast, “My Girls” was mellow and trance-like, lacking the propulsive rhythm of the studio version; rather than being underwhelming, however, this gave the audience a chance to sing along with the song’s chorus, a moment more akin to an arena pop show than a typical Animal Collective gig.
The set reached its peak during an epic take on “Fireworks”, which included an interpolation of “Lablakely Dress” from 2001’s Danse Manatee. One of the only songs of the night to feature live guitar and drums (played by Avey Tare and Panda Bear, respectively), its frenetic tribal pulse resulted in a mosh pit near the front of the stage. Of course, this was a gentle, indie twerp version of a mosh pit – once it was over, several of the moshers became acquainted by stroking one another’s beards (no joke).
The show finished with the dense clattering of “Slippi”, a tune culled from 2003’s Here Comes the Indian, which seemed to confuse audience members, most of whom were waiting for more cuts from Merriweather (play “My Girls” again!). It was a disorienting end to the set, serving as a reminder that, despite skyrocketing album sales and pop chorus singalongs, Animal Collective is still unwilling to pander to a mass audience.
Best of all, once the show was done, I got to go home and get a good night’s sleep in a warm bed – which is more than I can say for those jerks at Sasquatch.