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ISSUE 119 VOL 13 PUBLISHED 3/10/2006

Animal Collective freaks out at First Avenue

By Peter Farrell
Variety Editor

Friday, March 10, 2006

Last Sunday, Minneapolis' First Avenue hosted Brooklyn's weirdest noise-pop outfit, Animal Collective. The venue, which has undergone a renaissance of sorts since it nearly closed last year, was comfortably full for a Sunday evening.

Of course, Animal Collective attracts a certain type of devoted hipster/hippie crossbreed – the sort of person who is most comfortable drenched in patchouli oil and crotch-popping designer jeans.

The perplexing conglomeration of different “scenes” and smells set the stage for the equally perplexing performance of the Collective, a band that blew up the box long ago with its potent combination of Beach Boys vocal harmonies and punk-flavored power flower jams.

Accompanying the Animal Collective was the indie-beat poet Barr and the all-girl group First Nation. Brendan Fowler leads Barr, a one-man band out of New York City. Fowler specializes in looping heavy industrial hip-hop beats and screaming out stream-of-consciousness poetry.

The poetry is not bad – Fowler is witty and self-deprecating, and he knows how to capture a crowd. He overcame some early hostility from the audience by cleverly addressing a poem to a heckler in the audience, and by the end of the set he had turned most of the crowd's skeptical frowns into bewildered half-smiles.

Following Barr was the First Nation, a group comprised of three multi-instrumentalist women who specialize in soporific guitar drone and raga vocal harmonies. “Multi-instrumentalist” is a stretch – indeed, the First Nation ladies play instruments, but they do not play those instruments well.

Although, the amount of concentration First Nation put into playing their instruments would make you think they took the whole thing very seriously – the girls hardly moved the whole show, each assuming a variation on the Eddie Vedder “grunge” stare.

Frankly, the principle lesson of punk rock was that you do not need to be a good musician to front a good rock band – but if you cannot play, you better be able to entertain. First Nation failed on both counts. I actually have no conception of how a band of this caliber managed to weasel its way onto a tour with Animal Collective, but it does give hope to terrible bands everywhere

At 8:15 p.m., Animal Collective sauntered onstage. Dressed comfortable and looking crazy, Avey Tare, Panda Bear, Deakin and the Geologist (known to their mothers as Dave, Noah, Josh and Brian respectively) started the show slowly with new material. A characteristically simple Tare guitar line loaded with effects laid the foundation for an extended jam that climaxed in a haze of screams and tribal drums.

Choosing to open with new material, while unexpected, was characteristic of the show. This tour, ostensibly undertaken to promote their last record, Feels, was noticeably light on material from said record.

That said, the new material the group debuted was fantastic stuff packed with dissonant melodies, complex vocal harmonies and a more fully realized full-band sound.

The Feels material the band did choose to play worked the crowd into a frenzy, and for good reason. The production on Feels was a little thin, and in a live setting, the songs assumed the vibrant, vigorous tone they were meant to have. Muscular versions of “Grass,” “Flesh Canoe” and “The Purple Bottle” were played passionately and precisely, while earlier material like “We Tigers” was primal and almost violent in its energy.

Let me take a moment to note that no one, absolutely no one, screams on command like Tare. His voice can morph from childish warble to harrowing full-throated growl in a snap second, and while the grizzly Geologist may be the closest thing the Collective has to a star, Tare anchors the group with his vocals.

The concert reached its apex when the band broke into the awe-inspiring “Banshee Beat,” one of the best songs released last year. Starting with a gentle flutter of guitar and dreamy vocals, the song trembles around Tare's waterfall vocals before climaxing with in a series of group harmonies.

It was the best song of the evening, and the most convincing testament to the fact that Animal Collective is the most innovative bizarre-pop band in the jungle.

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