Live Music + Gig Reviews

Animal Collective @ Forum, London

24 March 2009

On record, it’s a real joy to pay attention to the subtleties of Animal Collective’s carefully constructed work.

The quieter moments, those indistinct lyrics; these are the elements that are best appreciated when it’s just you and your earphones.

But on stage at the Forum, below a weather balloon displaying projections of swirling, and aptly psychedelic colour, such intricacies were pushed to one side in favour of a beefed-up sound, strobe lighting, and even Orbital-style head torches. There was nothing low-key about this gig, and it was all the better for it.

How this little troupe – collective is perhaps too grand a term when there are only three people on stage – create such a magnificent cacophony is truly a wonder. Layer upon layer of vocals and instrumentation make tracks from the newest album, Merriweather Post Pavilion, real highlights of the set; Lion In A Coma stands out, and My Girls, with its thunderous timpani, and that joyous “wooooh!” (which is just crying out for a nice bit of audience participation, to which the fans happily assented) is another high point.

Despite the brilliant musicianship on show here, though – and the wall of sound they manage to produce really is hard to get over – there are a few negatives. You don’t get much banter from Animal Collective (apart from a chocolate rabbit being thrown into the crowd, which is perhaps a surreal kind of banter), and while admittedly we haven’t paid to hear them deliver a stand-up routine, the gig could do with some punctuation.

There is a tendency for the ambient soundscapes to become, just on occasion, a little self-indulgent and as such the gig certainly lost energy in the middle. Taking the odd breather rather than flowing from song to song, or slipping in the odd shorter – dare it be said, poppier – track would have made the night more dynamic. The quirkily beautiful, Zombies-esque Bluish from Merriweather, for example, could have been a perfect way to break things up.

It was great, then, to have Brother Sport finish the main part of the set. The new album’s closer is gloriously uplifting. Driven by a vaguely African beat, it provided the gig with a shot of vitality. It was the climax the night was needing and deserved.

Then, when the momentum of Brother Sport was carried through into the encore – Merriweather Post Pavilion’s opening track, In The Flowers – any previous transgressions started to fade into insignificance. The gig was imperfect, and sure, the lyrics in this track may sometimes approach the clichd end of ’60s psychedelia (“Feeling envy for the kid who’ll dance despite anything / I walk out in the flowers and feel better”) but when the drums kicked in at “If I could just leave my body for the night” the euphoria created was hard to resist.

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Festival Review: ATP/Animal Collective (Part 2)