It came about 40 minutes into Animal Collective’s US tour kickoff in Seattle last night: the moment — The Moment — when band and audience reached a hard-earned, mind-expanding equilibrium. At that point everything about the concert changed. Here and now, the crowd, initially reluctant and resistant to the band’s sonic prodding, sank willingly and irrevocably into the music, and the band took the music deeper into uncharted territory. It was like the atmospheric pressure changed in the room. There was no use fighting. This was The Moment, and The Moment always wins.
No idea what song it was. I’m cross-referencing the set list with my notes and can’t triangulate exactly where The Moment occurred. I’d say it was “Fireworks” from Strawberry Jam, but consensus refutes. Who knows? It was overwhelming, sublime, inscrutable. Impossible to tell exactly how the sounds coming from the stage were being made — along with the ever-present yawp of lead yawper Avey Tare (née David Portner), every drum beat, guitar strum and bass tone was electronically warped beyond recognition. The night’s first crowd-surfer went up.
The Moment put into perspective the nature of the entire 100-minute show, Animal Collective’s first in Seattle since 2007 (not to mention the first, period, of their just-kicked-off tour), set within the regally vaulted Paramount Theatre. Songs were more suggestions than statements, the performance a lava-lamp swirl of shifting sensations: anxiety, ecstasy, incongruity, release. The desire for straight talk, for clarity — a natural, human desire — was never sated. Instead the music was stubbornly diffuse, alien: murky and throbbing and utterly synthesized. And the crowd surrendered. There would be no ride-the-guitar solos tonight, no snippets of wisdom discernible in the lyrics. Or rather wisdom came in the realization that there is nothing in the world quite like an Animal Collective concert.
Which is what blissed-out acid casualties used to say about the Grateful Dead — an apt parallel. The show began with an amorphous sonic tide, like dropping into the middle of the Dead’s traditional second-set drums/space freakout, which after several minutes coalesced into the rainstick yoga trance of “Also Frightened” as official first song. Like the Dead, AnCo didn’t distinctly start or stop songs as much as they slid into and out of them; “Wide Eyed” sort of materialized from “Applesauce,” the latter featuring recently reunited guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Deakin on lead yawps. A balding goateed guy next to me held up a Zoom digital recorder the entire show, bootlegging, reminiscent of the Dead’s die-hard taper section. The concert was scientifically designed to deliver a cathartic psychedelic experience, and even sober as a straightedge you were in for it. (On that front, this almost-sold-out Tuesday night crowd was certainly not taking the acid test.)
While the Baltimore Orioles were taking the Seattle Mariners into 18 innings across town, the Baltimore Animals played inside what looked like a gaping cartoon mouth. Hanging above the stage was a row of giant, couch cushion-sized teeth internally lit, matched by secondary jaws at either side of the band. Behind them arched four articulated spider legs painted in Navajo-print abstract, a monstrous throat that swallowed the band whole. At the back of the stage, with a headlamp strapped to his dome (tradition!), Geologist, aka Brian Weitz, futzed with a tableful of digital boxes. Next to him Panda Bear, aka Noah Lennox, played a drum kit that sounded like everything but drums.
Percussion stood out as AnCo’s driving force. It’s where they’ve made the most impact on today’s freak-pop generation (there would be no fun. or Reptar without AnCo’s monumental, overmiked drums) and where they left the heaviest mark last night. At multiple points throughout the show — around “Brother Sport” and “Peacebone” in particular — every instrument was a drum and every melody a pulsing knot.
All night, in the noodly intro to each song, I heard teases of “Summertime Clothes” — a song apropos of Seattle’s currently balmy conditions. It never came; the band was focused on material from their just-released ninth album, Centipede Hz. As their hit, they offered “My Girls” in the encore and the crowd went appropriately nuts. More than an hour of thunderous, gooey jams and finally here was something to sing along to.
The song didn’t end, it blurred into something else, which blurred into something else, and then the Animals left the stage for the second and last time, their instruments still radiating inexplicable noise.
[Photos by Nate Watters]