It’s a cold night two days before Hallowe’en, and the stage is filled with lights and skeletons dressed in boas whilst a colossal crucifix hangs above the seated masses.
It’s an eerie setting, but Animal Collective are not exactly ones to stay on the beaten track. Here to promote new record Strawberry Jam, a progressively more digestible work compared to their previous efforts (though still hardly anything that would bother the mainstream) and following a bizarre appearance on the Conan O’Brien show in the USA.
Frontman Avey Tare leaps and bounds across the stage with nothing in the way of a welcome and instead charging straight into Unsolved Mysteries. As with past Animal Collective shows the setlist serves as something between order and apparent improvisation (though the band were quick to dismiss this in a recent interview) with one song blending into the next, leaving no time for applause or reflection. It seems it would be impossible to enter this sort of environment halfway through proceedings. Enjoy the whole ride or forget about it completely.
In-between less familiar breakdowns (the band is known for setlists made entirely of unreleased material rather than the record they’re promoting at the time) we get a staggering, almost unrecognisable Softest Voice, filling the echoed auditorium with yelps and powerful lighting (which at some points in the evening appear to be strong enough to cause a seizure), whilst Peacebone and Derek get some members of the polite all-seated fans on their feet. Panda Bear, himself an excellent solo artist, keeps his head down focusing on the array of instruments and keyboards that are sprawled out around him. The band at times play as if nobody is watching, with Tare keeping his back to the audience for one moment and screaming unfathomable rants the next. This is never anything less than captivating.
Sadly technical problems halt proceedings for a good ten minutes, losing some of the intensity and continuity that the performance had displayed up until that point. The band, clearly frustrated, attempt to amuse with jokes and smiles but the frustration on their faces is evident. When things are eventually up and running again the excitement and permanence resume almost immediately but clearly this break in proceedings has turned some attendees to the bar or even the exit in some cases.
Despite the lull in the middle and some noticeably absent tracks (Cuckoo Cuckoo? For Reverend Green? Not to mention not one track from Feels) the setting and atmosphere made this a very special evening indeed. Any gig in the future that doesn’t include illuminated skeletons alongside religious paraphernalia is going to pale in comparison.