Oakland’s Fox Theatre is probably the most perfect venue to see Animal Collective. Futuristic Jedi-Buddhas sit on either side of the stage, their eyes glowing like hot embers as they watch all the indie kids spaz out to a couple of boys playing machines on top of what look like three giant pieces of day-glo ice and a projector casting moving images of stencil art onto a giant white ball that dangles above the stage. And there’s a purple and gold ceiling, too, with stars shining like operatic pieces of glitter. It’s what a theater on Jupiter might look like.
The show is sold out, but most fans are waiting to pile in after the opening act, Grouper — a one-woman showcase of bullshit. Imagine Enya making airport symphonies for hipsters. I try to salvage something from the fuzzy reverb and her long, lonely wails, but I can’t stop picturing her masturbating in front of a full-length mirror. Self-indulgence, indeed.
Grouper plays a 30-minute set, and then it’s time for Animal Collective. A good thing, too, because the place is packed. Usually, I opt for seats in a theater setting — my 20s are starting to feel like my 60s — but I knew I’d want to dance, and so I went with the general admission floor. I wasn’t sorry. Oakland knows how to throw down. I haven’t seen so many white people dancing since Bonnaroo. It was joyful.
Like a good lover, Animal Collective take their time opening the show with “Chocolate Girls” (from Spirit They've Gone, Spirit They've Vanished) — a gorgeously eerie love song that’s also a coming-of-age story, complete with images of death and salvation. The song gallops softly until Avey Tare interrupts with a deafening scream. The Geologist nods his head with mathematical precision, as he charges the song forward behind Avey Tare’s public bloodletting, and Panda Bear exudes an affecting coolness as he harmonizes the song into something sweetly sinister — like a bunny dripped in blood. “Chocolate Girls” blends seamlessly into the opener from Sung Tongs, “Leaf House.” The song is transformed from a three-minute opener into a 15-minute tribal meltdown, the song drenched in melancholy — "This house is sad" — but also pulsating like a heart that feels too much. The dancefloor explodes.
I briefly consider the notion that Animal Collective is a postmodern jam band, but wonder if their studio albums are too good for the group to be considered a “better live” band. Of course, the albums are too good, but in concert, Animal Collective transcend the limitations of recorded material in ways that are very similar to some kind of jam band, maybe one from the future. I’m further convinced of this when they play “Fireworks,” and I’m still dancing 10 minutes later to the same song. Later, “My Girls” brings out the lovely quirkiness of Avey Tare and Panda Bear’s voices — both guys incredibly in sync and on key the entire show — and they seem comfortable playing with one another’s voices, bouncing yelps and grunts off each other like echolocation.
They end the night with “Brothersport,” and we are dancing as fast as we can to catch up with the shape-shifting chaos of a song that is like electronic reggae. Welcome to the pastiche that is Animal Collective.
[Photo: Adriano Fegundes]