A Progression of Sound

July 13th, 2011

Animal Collective – Prospect Park Bandshell – July 12, 2011

Animal Collective’s mass appeal is inexplicable. Rising from relative obscurity to commercial viability with the single “My Girls,” the group does not pander. Their live show is notoriously inaccessible, often exploring new songs, fragmentally, and foregoing better-known works. Pop sensibility aside, their music, often classified as experimental, electronic or freak folk, is plain weird. The components of most songs consist of yelps and discordant sounds. The band members are reclusive, hiding behind aliases and taking extended hiatuses. And yet, on Tuesday night at the Prospect Park Bandshell, a sold-out crowd gathered and experienced, wittingly or unwittingly, a brilliant concert.

Most immediately, the stage set drew attention. According to Twitter, friends and label mates of Animal Collective, Prince Rama, assisted in designing the backdrop, which looked like a combination of Superman’s fortress of solitude and a kindergarten classroom. Amidst hanging papier-mâché bats, light-up crystals and a giant skull with video screens for its eyes and mouth, the four current members of the band manipulated both digital and analog instruments. To some, this configuration of personnel and apparatus looked new. On their last tour supporting the album Merriweather Post Pavilion, only band members Avey Tare, Panda Bear and Geologist performed live and their instrumentation consisted chiefly of samplers and mixers. But now with their original guitarist Deakin back on the road, the focus appears to be on a robust sonic approach.

During their hour-long set, a few familiar tunes were woven in among a bulk of yet unheard, often amorphous material. But taken as a practice in discovery, the band performed beautifully. Animal Collective’s albums clarify otherwise inaccessible musical expression, and judging from the sampling of new songs, the next offering looks to be an interesting progression of their sound. —Jared Levy

Photos courtesy of Charles Steinberg