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Animal Collective - Forum, London, 24/3/2009

  by Mark Rowland

published: 6 / 4 / 2009

Animal Collective - Forum, London, 24/3/2009


At a keenly anticipated, strikingly visual show at the Forum in London, Mark Rowland watches pioneering electro act Animal Collective play a set which completely splits its audience

It may seem like Animal Collective’s star has risen very rapidly with the release of their latest album, 'Merriweather Post Pavilion', but their success has been more of a slow burn, building up a cultish, fairly obsessive fan-base over the course of nine albums. That said, the sudden (and incredibly belated) upsurge of interest from the mainstream press has opened the band up to an audience that they may previously have had no access to. Unsurprisingly, their gig at Kentish Town’s Forum is packed, and there’s a palpable anticipation in the air. Some of the band’s more die hard fans are easy to spot – one person is dressed as a panda, in honour of band member Panda Bear, and another group are all wearing head torches in the style of Geologist. Support act Dent May, with their ukelele, tambourine and their simple, Buddy Holly-esque songs, could not be further away from the wide-screen, psychedelic dance sound that Animal Collective are currently peddling. They’re met with a fairly warm reception from most of the crowd, but in some corners, they are met with impatience and mild irritation. “I just want to hear a beat, you know,” says an American voice behind us. It is perhaps understandable, but then Animal Collective have never made decisions, particularly in the live setting, that would cater purely to audience expectations. When the band finally come onstage, the tense anticipation has been wound almost to breaking point, and the sense of release is great as the band start playing. The first thing to really strike notice are the bands visuals – the sheet-covered tables which holds the band’s equipment emit different flashes of colour in time to the music. The head-swimming album 'Merriweather…' album cover is displayed at the back. The stage is smoky, part obscuring the band and giving them a vaguely enigmatic presence on stage. Above their heads, a large, white ball is a canvas for all sorts of trippy shapes and colours. It adds to the atmosphere in a set that feels like some kind of parallel rave, where the beat won’t sit still and the music messes with your head. Single ‘My Girls’ is played very early on in the set and is met with masses of enthusiasm from the crowd, which tries to dance to it before realising towards the middle of the song that they don’t know how. The die hards, however, seem to know that it doesn’t matter, their jerky movements somewhere between raving and swirly hippy dancing. The next song, ‘Summertime Clothes’, has more of a beat and is much easier to move to, the crowd receiving it enthusiastically. As the show goes on and the songs segue into one another, a division is noticeable in the audience, which perhaps could be perceived as those who ‘get it’ and those who don’t. This perception, in many cases, is probably unfair, but it does become clear that some nearby people are becoming restless. Whether they expected the band to play the new album fairly straight or not, it’s hard to say, but something about the band’s habit of jamming out the songs way beyond their recorded versions is not entirely sitting well with them. Admittedly, there are times when the band does stay on one phrase to the point where it starts to become uncomfortable, but those are few and far between. In the live setting, the songs almost take on a life of their own, and when it works, such as the drawn out refrain of ‘Daily Routine’, it really works. Some of their older songs, such as ‘Slippi’ from ‘Here Comes the Indian’, are reworked for the set, and for the most part, they fit in their new skins. Encore ‘Leaf House’, originally from the largely acoustic ‘Sung Tongs’, works surprisingly well as hypnotic electronica. Due to the absence of Deakin, who decided to sit out from 'Merriweather Post Pavilion' and any subsequent tours for the time being at least, we don’t get much from previous album, the brilliant 'Strawberry Jam', which had Deakin’s guitar playing all over it. We do, however, get ‘Fireworks’, one of the stand-out tracks from the album. Its change of pace and Avey Tare’s emotive vocals make this a real highlight of the gig as well, and, though extended somewhat, it never outstays it’s welcome. Audience interaction is fairly minimal during the set, apart from a mid-set break in which Avey Tare throws a chocolate rabbit into the crowd. It doesn’t matter however – this set is all about the sensory experience. Set closer ‘Brother Sport’ is brought out at the right time, seeming to connect with the entire audience. Finally, it feels like everyone – the band, the die hards, and the rest – are all on the same page. It might not have been for everyone, but for the most part, Animal Collective’s jittery trip is making sense to more and more people. The photographs that accompany this article were taken by Mark Rowland.

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