Looking around the Metro, geeked up for Animal Collective, I feared a war would break out at any moment. On one side, the high school hipsters, all glammed up for their night on the town, in from the burbs on the Metra. On the other, the unavoidable jam-bros, dudes who had a little smoke before coming to the show, pumped about the killer light show.
But, as it typically does, the sound pumped out of Animal Collective’s sound system united the factions, spreading peace, joy and a united Nation of Groove.
Opener Sixto Rodriguez largely failed to catch the audience’s attention. Led out onstage dressed in a very G’n’R vest, leather pants, and top hat, Rodriguez’s brand of Dylan-y garage rock didn’t seem to wow too many. Initial shouts of “Slash!” and “Sweet Child O’ Mine!” quickly lulled into idle chatter.
But the roar came back as Avey, Panda and Geologist walked onstage. Before it let up, the opening clangs of Merriweather Post Pavilion standout “Lion in a Coma” got the crowd bouncing. The probably-didgeridoo sample was backed with heavy sub-bass and thumping bass drum. It was hard to hear Avey bleat out the line “this wilderness up in my head” under the chorus of kids singing along.
After years of being criticized for never playing old material, the group has started to fold in reworked versions of older songs. Usually, these new versions take old, largely acoustic tunes and combine samples of those acoustics with new electronic sounds. Two tracks in, they dropped in Here Comes the Indian gem, “Slippi”. The tune’s alternating bare vocals and blasts of neo-tribal drumming with scratchy guitar had been a long-time fan favorite, often heard shouted as a request. This new version combined the old blast of guitar with new ethereal swarms from tech-master Geologist.
“Guys Eyes” and “Summertime Clothes”, both off of Merriweather, followed next, each getting its share of dancing and shouting.
Oscar Lopez/Chicago Sun-Times
But “My Girls” was the track that really threw everyone into a frenzy. The first track leaked off of the new record, the slinky electronic intro got recognized immediately, and the heads in front of me were ready to bob completely off before the maraca sample even made its way out of the speakers. The howl that follows the song’s brilliant chorus may have been the loudest I’ve ever heard an audience match a performer.
Relatively slow-paced “Also Frightened” didn’t translate quite as well live as the rest of the album. Where the recording was pensive, anxious, the live version was almost cheery. The psychedelic-pinwheel opening of “Daily Routine” fed right into a perfect combination of shimmery sampling from Geologist, as Avey smacked away at a tom and Panda intoned.
The next bit of music was nothing short of transcendental. A sample of clicking drum sticks and strumming guitar reminded me a lot of “Leaf House”. But the swirling eddys of electronic noise were something new. The noise swooped and crashed like waves, Avey and Panda harmonizing whoops and hollers. Eventually, the stuttered chants of “Sung Tongs” hit “Leaf House” finally poured into the room. Dancing popped up in little pockets as people slowly started to recognize what exactly was going on. Before the coos of “kitty, kitty” at the end of the song, there was an astonishing amount of chanting and hollering throughout the crowd.
But nothing could top the reaction that closing song “Brother Sport” got. The tropicalia strain made dancing inescapable, as even the coldest and crustiest of the onlookers were thrown into a fervor. “Open up your throat” was cheered right back at the trio, creating a communal, reciprocal demand for enthusiasm and music. “You’ve got the will to joy,” Panda sang, and everyone in the house had that will in bucketfuls.
The encore couldn’t come soon enough to cap off the brilliant night of music. Panda and Geologist walked onstage to a huge roar of approval. Sadly, Avey wouldn’t be joining them. “Dave is kind of sick and threw his voice out,” Panda explained before adding that they’d be playing one more song. The repeated chant of “Comfy in Nautica” (from Panda Bear’s solo album Person Pitch) met the approval of the Animal Collective-hungry crowd. The track sounded just as brilliant as it did on record, but included an added layer of intensity from Geologist’s sound textures. The chorus of “Try to remember always/ Always to have a good time” was the perfect ending to the night.
Just after this, I swear I saw a dude in a backwards hat and oversized American Eagle hoodie hug a girl in a paisley dress with facepaint. That might have just been a fever dream induced by the jams. But, the set had the perfect combination of dreamy loops, experimental sound textures and pounding rhythm to make something impossible like that happen.