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Review: A night with Animal Collective at McDonald Theatre

For most people, Monday evening primarily gravitated around a very specific debate between two people, both of whom are competing for the same job. The conversation included whether one believes that climate change was a hoax concocted by the Chinese, how to alleviate the relationship between the black community and the police and whether either of them has a plan to systematically demolish ISIS.

It was a very serious evening grounded in very serious matters. These were the strange circumstances during which I divorced reality and stepped into an Animal Collective show. The Baltimore-based experimental-pop group played the McDonald Theatre on Monday, Sept. 26. Eric Copeland, vocalist for experimental electronic group Black Dice, opened.

Animal Collective plays at the McDonald Theater in Eugene, Ore. on Sept. 26, 2016. (Aaron Nelson/Emerald)

Animal Collective plays at the McDonald Theater in Eugene, Ore. on Sept. 26, 2016. (Aaron Nelson/Emerald)

An Animal Collective show is a sensorial baptism by fire. The stage decoration included towering, cubist sculptures of heads, which loomed over the band’s three central members: Avey Tare (real name David Portner), Panda Bear (Noah Lennox) and Geologist (Brian Weitz).

Geologist earned the moniker for sporting a headlamp during each show, as if he were spelunking, but the real reason is much more practical; the visuals are a busy, mangled montage, an inexplicable fusion that defies easy explanation. It evoked pixelated cartoons siphoned through a kaleidoscope and the surrealist imagery of Spanish painter Joan Miró. The theatrics were wasted, but so was the crowd, so it evidently did wonders for them.

A friend in high school once suggested to me: “I think you have to be young to enjoy Animal Collective.” It made sense at the time; the band embodied a certain youthful whimsy that no one else did.

One of the more marvelous things from AnCo is the rapport between Avey Tare and Panda Bear. They have voices that pair very well together. Panda’s evokes a young Brian Wilson, while Avey’s is a bit rougher around the edges. They have an inimitable way that they sing together. Sure, they harmonize and sing in counterpoint, but they also do a rapid call-and-response, sharing syllables between them, dancing up and down the staircase of a melody with grace and vitality. Almost none of this rapport translates to the live show.

Animal Collective plays at the McDonald Theater in Eugene, Ore. on Sept. 26, 2016. (Aaron Nelson/Emerald)

Animal Collective plays at the McDonald Theater in Eugene, Ore. on Sept. 26, 2016. (Aaron Nelson/Emerald)

The setlist was a hodgepodge of tracks with a heavy emphasis on the group’s album Painting With, which dropped this year. The set also included a nearly unrecognizable arrangement of “Water Curses,” a relatively deep cut in the band’s catalog that already sounded like it was recorded inside a fishtank. Then there was the doomy, synth-filled cover of “Kids on Holiday,” an interesting take of the acoustic, chipper cut from the 2004 album Sung Tongs.

There were all the standard Animal Collective ingredients: tribal drums, the many layers of modular synths and the spotless tenor vocals layers from Panda. But there didn’t seem to be anything to galvanize the show as a whole. Even the horrifying bass and melodic synth flourishes of “Summertime Clothes,” a stand-out from 2009’s Merriweather Post Pavillion, was tiresome and seemed to fall flat.

With time, the band’s hooks have gotten poppier and dumber. The opening verse to “Summertime Clothes” is a poetic description of night sweats and restless agitation during a sweltering summer night befitting a Stephen King story  (“My bones have to move and my skin’s gotta breathe”). Compare this with “FloriDada,” the single from Painting With: we hear Avey’s vocal chords pogoing up and down as he sings “Flori, Flori, Flori, Flori, Florida, Flori-dada, Flori-dada!”

Maybe the band has veered into senselessness and any emotional bond I had with them has dissolved; maybe Roger Murtaugh and I have something in common, and I’m getting too old for this shit. When I’d returned home with my roommate after the show, he had an easier epiphany: “I hate the youth.”

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Emerson Malone

Emerson Malone

Podcast producer with The Daily Emerald and student research fellow with the UO-UNESCO Crossings Institute.