The noises have faces? A review of Animal Collective live

By Emily Smith

If you’ve ever wandered around stoned, someone has probably pulled out their iPod to play you a song that begins with a sound like bacon frying, followed by deep voices crooning, “You don’t have to goooooooo to college.”

The delightful New York-based weirdos responsible for that song are known as Animal Collective. Their latest album, Feels (Fatcat, 2005), was an instant hit among indie kids who—though they would probably refuse to say so—were relieved to hear Animal Collective be more music and less experiment.

I was really excited to see them perform at First Avenue last Sunday night. My friends who have seen them all told me that they were amazing live, but frankly, I was disappointed.

Somehow, despite the fact that they produce incredible music, they have terrible taste in opening bands. Remember the geeky Jewish kid at summer camp who thought he could rap? Now picture him in front of hundreds of people, and you have Barr, Animal Collective’s first opener. When I realized that he wasn’t joking, I felt a squirmy sensation I haven’t experienced since middle school talent shows.

After Barr came First Nation, or as I like to call them, “Three Women Who Desperately Need to Learn to Play Their Instruments.” Their “singing” consisted of screechy wailing noises that are only cool when dolphins make them. Worse, they clearly have no idea what drums are supposed to do, or that three guitars do not make a band automatically good. I can only compare their performance to a dementor’s kiss—it sucked all of the joy and life from my soul.
While Animal Collective played, I felt vaguely unsettled. I realized that because their name is Animal Collective and they have very few discernible words on their albums, it had never occurred to me that they were human beings. Seeing them live forced me to drastically shift my perception of the world.

After accepting the change, I still wasn’t thrilled to see them. It’s hard to put a finger on what they did wrong. They were certainly energetic. Plus, they reminded me of the Trads, because they were each individually slightly awkward, but collectively, I would have taken any/all of them. And their music functioned much like a mating call—I felt like half the audience had their hands down each other’s pants.

A general increase in dancing and screaming accompanied songs from Feels. The other songs they played were more abstract and experimental. On another occasion, I probably would have love, love, loved their crazier music, but as Hadley Pope ’09 put it, “My ears had already been assaulted with enough noise.”

It was definitely exciting to see their noise live, and I still have a special adoration for the antics of Animal Collective, but I expected a certain je ne sais quoi that they didn’t deliver. It’s probably not their fault—I just couldn’t handle them after the dreadful opening acts. I’m going to see them in Atlanta over spring break, but when that time comes, I’ll show up late, ready to throw myself into their magical realm of bizarre beauty.