Review: Animal Collective reached new heights of absurdity at their Brooklyn show

On March 12, one of the longest-tenured acts in the indie universe took to the stage at Brooklyn Steel.

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Animal Collective, an experimental and indie-pop band, held a concert at the Brooklyn Steel on March 12. In addition to playing songs off their latest album, they also debuted six unreleased songs. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

Jack Peterson, Contributing Writer

NYU alum Avey Tare (David Portner) has always been a strange presence on Animal Collective’s records, but it’s a unique phenomenon to witness his wild energy on stage. On March 12, Brooklyn Steel — Williamsburg’s middle-aged hipster paradise — was packed with fans hanging onto every sound coming out of Tare’s rapidly moving mouth. Though percussionist Panda Bear (Noah Lennox) and multi-instrumentalist Deakin (Josh Dibb) took over vocals at various points, de facto frontman Avey Tare’s distinct mix of intelligible and entirely incomprehensible lyrics steered the majority of the show’s 15 explosive tracks.

Without a word, the four members of one of indie pop’s most boundary-pushing acts took to the stage, launching directly into “Strung With Everything,” the third single from their latest album, the critically acclaimed “Time Skiffs.” Released on Feb. 4, the album was instantly heralded as a return to form for the band, and was the first since 2012 to feature all four members of the band.

Animal Collective’s New York City show — their first in the city since July 2018 — took pride in this reunion of sorts. The four songs from “Time Skiffs” the band performed at the concert — “Strung With Everything,” “Car Keys,” “Cherokee” and “Passer-By” — seemed to be the most rehearsed tracks of the set, with Tare’s vocals front and center and the instrumentation as tight as ever. 

While Tare was the most visually captivating member of the band during the show, with his whoops and hollers creating a soundscape that bordered on annoying, beatmaker-producer-multi-instrumentalist Geologist (Brian Weitz) often stole the spotlight. 

Weitz earned his nickname from the miner’s headlamp he wears strapped to his head, which allows him to better see the futuristic instruments he plays on stage. Besides his idiosyncratic look, the speed at which Geologist moved from sound to sound and tone to tone was astonishing. One of the best parts of the show was when Weitz pulled out a hurdy-gurdy, a strange wind-up string instrument whose most notable use since the medieval period was by Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page.

The band performed for over two hours, playing extended versions of tracks from 2012’s “Centipede Hz,” 2007’s “Strawberry Jam” and their 2009 success “Merriweather Post Pavilion.” While they mostly strayed away from their hits —  even eschewing “Time Skiffs” singles “Prester John” and “Walker” — Animal Collective rewarded their most diehard devotees with six unreleased songs.

These unreleased tracks were ultimately shelved, according to Panda Bear, until the group could workshop them and record them as a full band, as opposed to the mostly remotely recorded “Time Skiffs.” That dilemma is clear, as some of the unreleased cuts are clearly not quite finished, but songs such as the epic “Defeat (A Not Suite)” — performed mostly by Avey Tare and Geologist and anchored by their intense eye contact — were show highlights. A recorded release can’t come soon enough.

While the onstage performance wasn’t as physically intense as Animal Collective’s reputation would lead you to expect, the projections that covered much of the stage and its backdrop did draw attention. At some points, partnering with the superb light show to create an effect akin to the band’s previous visual albums, animated figures that crawled across the screen behind Panda Bear drew laughs from the crowd.

Another notable element of the show was how infrequently the band took breaks. While your typical performers might pause between tracks to allow applause and chants to hit the stage, Animal Collective performed this show like it was one continuous piece. The band used a repetitive beat or synth line to carry the end of one song into the beginning of another for almost the whole set. 

When breaks did come, they were only to switch instruments and add a sprinkling of the lowest-effort crowd work, such as Tare’s shy, “How you guys doing?” or “Thanks so much.” Those pauses, though, would result in some of the biggest moments of the show, taking place before “In The Flowers” and “Cherokee,” songs that launched the crowd into a frenzy — the kid in front of me leapt onto his friend’s back in a way that couldn’t have been comfortable.

Also in the lineup was opener L’Rain, whose fearless blend of screamed vocals, beautiful slower instrumentation and an aggressive bass line undoubtedly left an impression on the audience that stuck in the backs of our eardrums at least through the headliner’s first few songs. Avey Tare dedicated one of his few pauses to complimenting L’Rain, a lifelong fan of the band. 

The show closed with “Centipede Hz” highlight “Applesauce” before an encore brought out unreleased track “Stride Rite” as well as “Strawberry Jam” classic “For Reverend Green.” 

Suffice it to say, go out of your way to see Animal Collective the next time they’re in a city near you. Whether you love or hate their records, the live performance they create breathes entirely new life into the recorded material.

Contact Jack Peterson at [email protected]