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live music review: animal collective, prospect park, 12 july 2011

Or: ‘Animal Collective, Prospect Park + the future of Indie Music: The State I’m In’.

One of the better bands of my generation has to be Animal Collective. They are to indie music what The Doors are to classic rock. Over the past decade, Avey Tare (David Portner), Panda Bear (Noah Lennox), Deakin (Josh Dibb) and Geologist (Brian Weitz) have come to represent everything multi-instrumental, “experimental”, avant-garde and irrevocably cool about indie music.

I will spare you the history lesson or explanation on why the band is so important; most people who claim to like good music these days have at least a marginal knowledge of Animal Collective. The individual members each have successful solo careers and side projects, their own record label and legitimate soft spots in the hearts of hipsters everywhere. There are also probably a lot of drugs involved.

If you’re wondering what all the fuss is about, just watch “Bluish” or “My Girls” from the 2009 masterpiece Merriweather Post Pavilion.

As always, with me, it’s about the music first over hype or image; all of my favorite bands have legitimate talent. Well, these four white guys from Baltimore fit the bill. The first song that I ever heard by them was “Fireworks” off 2007’s Strawberry Jam, probably because the album was recorded in Tucson and I was living there at the time. From that moment, I was hooked. The kind of wacky instrumentation and offbeat harmonization that dominate this song are probably the only two characteristics that permeate the majority of the band’s oeuvre. If you ask me what any of my favorite songs by them are even about, I won’t be able to give a good answer – it’s the music that captivates.

On July 12, 2011 I was finally going see Animal Collective at none other than Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, the best “outer borough” answer to Central Park. The band is based in Brooklyn now and the concert was part of the Celebrate Brooklyn! Summer concert series that raises a bunch of money throughout the season to keep Prospect Park as awesome as it is. I had about 10 friends going and we got a beautiful day for the concert, so I was beyond excited.

After an awful opening DJ set, Animal Collective took the stage. What followed was not the euphoric couple of hours I had been anticipating for so long, but instead a lot of new material that no one really knew with a few classics like “Did You See The Words”, “Summertime Clothes” and “Brother Sport” sprinkled in between. Sure, I understand that being “avant-garde” means playing long instrumental jams and showing the crowd what you can do with sound over producing a hit factory, but the overall performance was lacking the epicness for which we go to concerts, even though I enjoyed the new material from the band and really liked the stage environment they created.

The question then becomes: has Animal Collective let its reputation and favorability among indie snobs enable shockingly underwhelming live performances?

I’m going to vote no, because as evidenced in those three videos above, the band creates magic when they’re together. I know that sounds cheesy, but it’s true – when they’re onstage enjoying each other’s musicianship, they achieve the wonderful weird perfection that has made them the undeniable forefathers of indie rock. I am sure my mom had the same complaints about seeing the Allman Brothers…no one enjoys twenty minutes of unrecognizable jamming, but when these guys are on such a high of performing together, can we really blame them?

photo credit: We All Want Someone To Shout For

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