Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper and Teaspoon To The Ocean, the current albums by Panda Bear and Jib Kidder, have been two of the early standout releases of 2015 – both possessing a keen sense of musical liberation and psychedelic exploration, albeit having reached their end destinations from different places.
The choice of Jib Kidder (primarily the alias for New York based musician Sean Schuster-Craig but tonight expanded to a trio) to support Panda Bear makes complete sense – there’s a definite shared spirit at play even if it is represented in different ways. Both use a large on stage screen for lurid, surreal visual projections which in Jib Kidder’s case lends their music a sense of weird theatre, most literally on the track Face Of Meat. Musically, it’s a sort of curatorial, slacker psychedelia – tracks like Appetites, The Many and Illustration borrowing from the likes of The Shins and Kingsbury Manx – angular, upcycled guitars shot through with druggy, kaleidoscopic sunshine. Best of all is how they don’t waste a single second, all stopping just as abruptly as they start. They’re a name to keep an eye on through 2015.
Panda Bear has a modest set-up (a small bank of modular synths, samplers and laptop) and he makes a strong start with the cubist melodic abstraction and looping vocals of Boys Latin. It’s arguably the stand out track on the album, weightless and refined – traits largely preserved tonight but it still offers hints of one of the difficulties of the Panda Bear live experience – namely the competition and ultimate lack of resolution between the cerebral and the physical.
Early on there’s signs of his alchemical musical prowess – Crosswords has a greater reverberating immediacy (and tonight benefits from added bass) while Sequential Circuits offers a sea of coalescing sonic objects, vocals richly layered on top. Such tracks give a clear view of the detailed construction processes that go into his music making – both live and on record. Yet, there are moments that don’t quite come off as well live – Come To Your Senses never quite takes off as on record and whereas Tropic Of Cancer has an uncomplicated openness and serenity on album, live it struggles to impose itself. Selfish Gene has much greater physical impact but seems to struggle for direction, not really going anywhere. The sonic collages of the mind found on Acid Wash fare much better.
The omission of Mr Noah from the set is puzzling however, its crunching circular melody and engine-room swagger would have undoubtedly lifted the show (as would have tracks from Person Pitch which is also unrepresented tonight). Two of the strengths of Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper are the heightened sense of melody and greater song structure integrity which help set it apart from the impenetrabilities of 2011’s Tomboy. It’s tracks from this album that makes up the encore however. Alsatian Darn and Scheherazade pass by fairly uneventfully before Surfer Hymn delivers a powerful finale. Yet, it can’t mask a strangely unconvincing overall live show that offers contrasting glimpses of dancefloor friendly euphoria and dense, heady psychedelia but ultimately falls short, languishing between the two.