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The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

In case you were wondering where everyone was on Tuesday

By Peter Valelly

A few times a semester, the Twin Cities plays host to one of “those” concerts, the kind that draw Macalester’s indie-loving masses in droves, leaving the campus half-dead. So it was with Animal Collective’s Tuesday night show at First Ave. Within minutes of walking in the door, I saw several friends, dozens of classmates, and an unnamed fellow Mac Weekly member playing hookey from that night’s staff meeting.What is it, I couldn’t help but wonder, that has made Animal Collective one of the defining bands of this indie generation? The obvious answer seems that in terms of their pursuit of new possibilities of sheer sound, there are few prominent indie rock bands of their generation that can match.

But we have to look at exactly what made them seem so innovative, because while their sound was fresh in the context of this decade’s increasingly turgid and snoozeworthy indie rock scene, it was also a product of that same scene.

Animal Collective’s rise to prominence began a couple albums into its career, with 2003’s “Here Comes the Indian.” Like much of the contemporary indie generation so well represented in Macalester’s student body, I was thrilled by the record’s mesmerizing and often frightening stew of shambolic textures and untaggable sounds.

From this album on, Animal Collective seemed to posit itself directly between the extremes of this decade’s malnourished, attention-deficient hipster scene. On one hand, the ’00s saw an incestous, nearly viral explosion of ear-shattering noise bands, a scene which Dusted Magazine’s Scott McKeating, with due contempt, nicknamed “dudenoise.”

Meanwhile, indie finally defied its homegrown obsession with authenticity, embracing the technicolor sample-and-synth splendor of pop, hip-hop, R&B, and electronic – genres that had long since soared past it on every register of innovation and freshness, if not quality.

“Here Comes the Indian” displayed a straddling of these two styles, perfect for indie rock fans not content to listen to bands rehash Pavement for the umpteenth time. They shared the noise heads’ fetishism of the sonically weird and the desire for new songwriting forms while displaying a contemporary-pop-indebted affinity for wonky electronics, samples, and exotic hooks. That the album came out before either of these hipster trends had truly come to fruition seems to reveal Animal Collective as indie’s subconscious brought to life.

When I saw Animal Collective as they toured to support “Here Comes the Indian,” they crouched in the corner of a dingy side room of a high-rise downtown art gallery in Philadelphia, masks covering their faces, huddled over samplers, sequencers, synthesizers, and a perpetually roaring guitar.

As Animal Collective’s career progressed, these noisy inclinations gave way to an increasingly palatable sensibility, and on its recent albums the band remained as unpredictable as ever, yet betrayed a marked interest in sample-driven pop excursions.

At First Ave on Tuesday, the band’s curious and triumphant transformation was on full display. Rather than the abject weirdness of that first show, the members fully and comfortably wore the skin of the indie pop stars they’ve become, but with enough weirdness to let the audience know they haven’t abandoned their rabid playfulness and drive for invention.

Their set list drew from throughout their metamorphosis. The reliance on guitar was nearly abandoned as vocal pop hooks gave way to jabbering samples, bleating synths, and walls of electronic noise. Singer Avey Tare flailed and yelped in front of blinding rainbow stage lights, flanked by bandmates Geologist and Panda Bear and a pair of eerie skeleton props.

Their set had an odd ebb and flow, as each song seemed to begin like an anthem and end like a war zone, steady and hooky pop songs giving way to frantic tribal mess. This circular rhythm sealed both band and audience in an enveloping sonic world, each song massive yet unstable, unpredictable yet joyful.

Their show four years ago was underwhelming compared to “Here Comes the Indian,” but now it seems that their less consistently brilliant later albums – “Sung Tongs,” “Feels,” and the new “Strawberry Jam” – provide glorious concert fodder. “Strawberry Jam” in particular seems like the climax of their pop side, and this show, if not this entire tour, seems to be the coming out party for the weirdo celebrity that always lurked improbably within Animal Collective’s bizarre persona.

And what a party it was: the best show I’ve seen this year, easy.

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