Animal Collective & Black Dice
New York, NY
Seeing the freak-folk team Animal Collective live is a lot like listening to their albums (2003′s Here Comes the Indian, 2004′s super good Sung Tongs) â€” while shoving your head inside a woofer (like some return to some sonic womb) and attaching high-voltage treble cables directly to your brain. And then there’s the darkened stage, the miner’s helmet-ed band member manically pounding things on the floor of the stage, and a severely mesmerized audience. Maybe it was just my first time seeing a show at the Bowery Ballroom, but “blown away” seems to be as much of an understatement as this understatement.
Stage-named Panda Bear and Avey Tare, the expanded duo also was joined by two fellow maniacs, Geologist and Deaken, on-stage to create some thrilling and experiemental folkmusic. Try to picture the physical postures of Animal (from the Muppets) playing the drums, and you have a notion of the mannerisms that power an Animal Collective performance. Like their songs, the players herk and jerk in seemingly hysteric entropy, while at some layer a definite coherence is sustained. While percussion duties are shared by all members at any given time, the band-member stationed in front of what is definitely an atypical drum-kit stood as he played, and when he played it was not with technical precision but with the controlled panic of an artist seized by the highs of creation. It looked/sounded like he was hitting stones, sticks, and logs rather than actual drums. Another Collective member spent most of the night on the floor with a keyboard (?- coudn’t see) and a miner’s light fastened across his forehead.
The highlight of their set came early when said squatting, head-lamped guy leaped up to assist the guitar player/singer in a tribal duet of grunts and chants, so common to the Animal Collective melange. The energy was unreal, telling of the genuine collaboration at the core of Animal Collective. The only song I could actually identify was the first track from their latest album Sung Tongs, “Leaf House.”
Not nearly as lush or acoustic as Sung Tongs ,the live show (at least last night) reflects the bands earlier leanings, which tend toward Black Dice’s latest leanings (note this connection now and recall it when you read the other paragraphs). On the Fat Cat Records site, the band’s intentions were originally to move “pop music in a direction that would place a heavy emphasis on sonic experience.” Their music is not quite so vague, and neither was the experience of seeing them. Microphone distortion was fundamental to all the performing acts, from openers Gang Gang Dance (My Bloody Valentine a la Talking Heads) on down. Somebody at the astoundingly subtle sound-station put the effect-works on all singers: the echo, the reverb, the being-karate-chopped-rapidly-on-the-back effect (Devendra Banhart sounds like this naturally). Layers, sweet layers of interest being applied not unlike flavor is blasted onto Goldfish. Most of their sound consisted of a few acoustic guitar chords played non-conventionally, hummed melodies puncuated by bursts of forest noise (grunts, hoots, howls), and earthy yet esoteric polyrhythms. Astounding. Then came the Black Dice.
An assault best describes Black Dice’s approach to live music, which is really really loud. Hipsters in the know bring ear-plugs, as did the band (cheaters), and the rest of us plebeians left with swollen, battered eardrums. But the violence of the music was a sublime thing, much more beautiful than the noise of war or hatred. The now-trio wheeled three tables onstage and placed upon these tables myriad distortion peddles, wires, knobs, and monitors. Manning the middle station, the lone guitarist would fiddle with the odd chord or scale now and then, at which point they would tweak, reverb, amplify, and dismantle the sound into a massive squall of arthymic electric-shrieks and howling feedback. For nearly fifty minutes the oppressively cool seige assailed the slowly dwindling audience. One girl managed to take a nap in one of the balcony’s back corners; how, I’m not sure. There were no clear demarkations between songs, but singular movements within the set were distinct. Some have called Black Dice pretentious, but I think abusive is a better adjective. Still, it was rather effective when the musician on the left waved his hand in some sort of pre-arranged signal and the stage fell silent for a second before sparse but enthusiastic applause followed the band off-stage. There are plenty of precedents, it turns out, to their approach. Musicians have been experimenting with pure noise since Edison invented feedback (or was it Bell?). At the very least, the band should take the praise of a fan as he departed just after the concert: THAT WAS THE LOUDEST THING I’VE EVER HEARD.
Maybe seeing Animal Collective and Black Dice in the same night is the concert-going equivalent of your mom walking in during the movie’s only sex scene. I’m sure had it been The Presidents of the United States of America or Joan Baez (two acts scheduled to appear at the Ballroom in the coming months), I would have been put more at ease by more conventional song structure and less abraissive acoustic assaults; on the other hand, I feel as though I have been led into a promising and unsettling valley of taste, basking in white sunshine that hurts my ears kindly.