Animal Collective: Live Last Night

animal collective

Live Last Night

BALTIMORE -- A cappella will never be hip. But if any group could make it happen, it would be Animal Collective. The white-hot indie trio, whose album "Merriweather Post Pavilion" is a lock to finish near the top of countless year-end best-of lists, incorporates all sorts of blippy, bleepy, droney and woozy sounds into its psychedelic-electronic concoctions.

But it's the vocal gymnastics of Avey Tare (Dave Portner) and Panda Bear (Noah Lennox) -- chants, chirps, coos and even some actual words -- that serve as the centerpieces to their songs. At the band's U.S. tour opener Sunday night at the tiny, sold-out Ottobar, those voices were at their mesmerizing best. When the pair sang in tandem, the effect was as hypnotic and dazing as the hallucinatory optical illusion backdrop than hung behind them.

(Read the rest of the review after the jump.)

For all of the musical madness that goes on in the band's extended jams -- much of it masterminded by the band's non-singing member, knob-twiddling, miner-flashlight-wearing Geologist (Brian Weitz) -- Avey Tare and Panda Bear sing these songs as if they are nursery rhymes. Nursery rhymes that would make any infant break into a hysterical fit of crying, but nursery rhymes nonetheless. "Who Could Win a Rabbit" was a gleeful campfire celebration, voices excitedly ascending and descending with every syllable. The effect was more soothing on irresistible set-closer "My Girls," which was the aural equivalent of call-and-response with fun house mirrors.

As the band stretched 13 songs into nearly two hours at their hometown show, a new microgenre seemed to emerge -- vocal jam band.

The stage was filled with samplers, keyboards, a couple of guitars, a handful of drums and more wires than at Circuit City; but all of those noises proved to be merely background sounds to Avey Tare and Panda Bear's voices. They would sometimes amble on for minutes at a time, seemingly entranced by their own siren songs, of which the only negative consequences were some hippie-ish twirling by underage kids. When everything dropped out and Panda Bear was left to sing unaccompanied at the end of "Daily Routine" it was among the evening's most memorable moments. (The second show on the U.S. tour comes tonight at the 9:30 club; sold out, of course.)

What the pair was saying wasn't nearly as important as how they said it. Only a handful of lyrics were decipherable and, frankly, that's probably for the best. Robert Zimmerman chose Bob Dylan for his stage name -- an homage to poet Dylan Thomas -- and his output reflected that. Noah Lennox goes by Panda Bear. 'Nuff said. For most bands, the standard sing-along is a fist-pumping, declarative chorus. Not so for Animal Collective. It's more like the intro to "Fireworks," which found many in the audience joining Avey Tare in his high-pitched "doo doo-doo doo-doo!" shrieks.

Some gooey sentiments can cause eye rolls when read on paper -- such as: "I don't need to seem like I care about material things like a social status/I just want four walls and adobe slabs for my girls." But when Lennox repeatedly chanted those lines as if they were a mantra -- with a firm, two-hand grip on the microphone, eyes clenched shut, inviting electronic washes behind him -- only the most stubborn of souls could resist.

--DAVID MALITZ

By David Malitz |  May 11, 2009; 1:38 PM ET Animal Collective , Live Last Night
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