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Animal Collective - Scala, London, 25/10/2005

  by Dominic B. Simpson

published: 27 / 11 / 2005

Animal Collective - Scala, London, 25/10/2005


Dominic Simpson watches experimental free spirits the Animal Collective play a shamanistic and eclectic set at a packed show at the legendary London Scala

Located in King’s Cross, full of beggars, tramps, drug cases, and general weirdoes, the Scala is a wondrous venue indeed. Formerly a cinema, it’s since been transformed into a gig venue that’s just about the right size and capacity – not too small, but not too big either - with some legendary gigs (such as the Stooges in their original incarnation at the dawn of the 70’s) under it’s belt. Recently it’s tended towards the more left-field variety, with the likes of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, A Silver Mount Zion, Shellac, Low and Sun O))))) all playing here. There’s a male and female Japanese duo onstage called Aoki Takamasa and Tujiko Noriko doing some laptop pop, with her voice enunciating the Japanese words while he dances at his two laptops. It makes for a beguiling spectacle, and with some beautiful vocals on top, but sadly the songs lack character and stray too much towards coffee-table trip-hop by numbers territory. Caribou (formerly Manitoba before a legal wrangle led to a forced name-change) fare better, with the pummelling drums counterpointing the keyboard stabs. The solo project of one Dan Snaith, a Canadian based in London, but, fleshed out live with backing musicians, they fit the experimental-guitar-with-electronics feel of the evening with various tracks from their 'Milk of Human Kindness' album. The music brings to mind everything from Elephant 6 collective bands like Neutral Milk Hotel and the Apples in Stereo to the more electronic-based feel of Four Tet and Boards of Canada. The venue is packed now, with many still arriving, and a trip upstairs turns out to reveal an excellent view of the whole venue, the sold out crowd right beneath this writer’s feet. The Animal Collective are already tuning up onstage, with the two guitarists’ plugged straight into a mixing desk in the centre of the stage, operated by Geologist, one of the band members, which in turn goes through the venue mixing desk. With their new album, 'Feels', contrasting with that of the previous, acoustic drone-based 'Sung Tongs', you feel that the gig could go in all kinds of directions depending on what takes the Animal Collective’s mood. One thing that has disappeared is the face-paint, though not with sections of the audience. Without their masks, they look more conventional, but the mixing desk and its operator in the centre of the stage contrasts sharply with your average gig set-up. A shimmering wave of guitar emanates from the stage before they open with 'Did You See The Words', and what immediately strikes you is that while they have the skewered pop elements that bring to mind the Flaming Lips and Mercury Rev, their sound also strays into the kind of drone and dissonance that aligns them more with the experimental underground than any top 40 act. Meanwhile, it’s hard not to notice that rather than employing a conventional drummer, there’s a member of the band – the implausibly named Panda Bear - playing the drums standing up in a percussive manner instead, so that most of the beat consists of shamanistic tom-tom beats and hardly any use of the hi-hat or other trebly parts of a drum kit. It’s the washes of guitar that are really amazing, though – barely recognisable as conventional instruments, instead they sound otherworldly, refracted intricate prisms of sound. Eschewing for the most part the acoustic wash of ‘Sung Tongs’, the band instead opt for most of the new album, with ‘Grass’ bringing forth some nodding heads in the crowd, and the slow, languid flow of ‘Banshee Beat’ particularly spellbinding, Geologist slowly bringing forth a ping-pong beat from his mixer, the light attached to his miner’s hat bobbing around. ‘The Purple Bottle’, too, is stunning, the tribal drumming reaching a crescendo against the echoing guitar lines and Avery Tare’s vocal squawks. In the middle of the set, though, the band’s desire to escape from the conventions of the drum beat leads to a kind of freestyle "rap" of sorts, with no guitars at all. Instead the two guitarists engage in anarchic chanting, the song clearly loosely based on ‘We Tigers’ off ‘Sung Tongs’ but improvised in parts too, Geologist applying all sorts of effects to their vocals. It doesn’t always work, especially with Avery Tare’s out of tune vocals on one track particularly jarring, but when they gel it’s a magnificent sight to behold, and illustrates just how much they’re willing to stretch out and try new ideas. It’s this commitment to expanding their approach and rejecting the orthodox that shows just how much Animal Collective remain rooted to an idiosyncratic mindset, one that’s aesthetically routed more to fellow free spirits like the Sunburned Hand of the Man, Six Organs of Admittance and the polyrhythmic experimentation of Black Dice and Gang Gang Dance than any orthodox outfits, with their commitment to an eclectic and shamanistic vibe that puts most conventional rock music at shame. They encore with 'Kids on Holiday' off 'Sung Tongs', the lyrics revelling in a child-like wonder with its recollections of Krishnas in airports. The band look faintly embarrassed at the appraisal ricocheting around the venue. It’s a wonderful moment.

Picture Gallery:-
Animal Collective - Scala, London, 25/10/2005

Animal Collective - Scala, London, 25/10/2005

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