Saturday, March 25, 2006

A Veritable Collection of Animals

Animal Collective belongs to the"freak folk" categtory, a genre that exists to be the counterculture to your parents' counterculture folk music. I know that sounds like the kind of circular logic that produces concert halls packed with young republicans wearling argyle sweaters over their shoulders listening quietly to Barry Manilow singing Mel Torme, but this is a revolution in the other direction. You gotta love such a self descriptive genre- freak folk music is the music you would have heard in the sixties if Simon and Garfunkel had joined forces with Jefferson Airplane. The poster children for freak folk would also be my current idea of Dream Concert: Joanna Newsom accompanying her appealingly quirky helium-voice with her harp, Devendra Banhart warbling in his dark Billie Holiday voice and Animal Collective feeling their tonal way around the sound.

The problem with my current Dream Concert (part of a series!) is that Black Cat keeps rejecting my offers to book shows, so Storsveit Nix Noltes opened for AC last Tuesday night. Storsveit Nix Noltes initially sounded unappealing to me, not because of their name, which means "something I couldn't find on google" in their native Icelandic (Storsveit is Icelandic for google) and has nothing to do with Nick Nolte, even if the Object calls them Six Nick Noltes. What struck me as odd about the band was what I heard about them prior to the concert: "an Icelandic nonet playing all kinds of folk music, but you know, kinda punky..."

That sounds suspiciously like perfomance art, doesn't it? The kind you agree to watch only while high on crystal meth. Actually, that's the only kind of performance art.

But when I arrived at Black Cat, I was moved- not in some kumbayah metaphoric way; I actually couldn't resist movement. I was willed to dance. To be fair, it doesn't take much to will me to dance, but everyone was dancing. Not just disaffected hipster swaying, or that weird white boy hopping up and down rhythmically, but actually dancing.

What would cause such a stir at the Black Cat? Imagine Bjork conducting a Scottish punk band playing klezmer music with a mariachi trumpet thrown over the top for shits and giggles. Now imagine that the whole thing works really, really well: the band is seamless, fronted by a woman with stringy hair wearing a Talbot's dress, circa 1994, who is rocking out. She's not a guitarist or one of those ubiquitous chick bass players; she's the band's cellist. For the first time in my life- and I'm including the years spent at music conservatory- I heard the phrase, "Holy shit, that cellist fucking rocked the house!" I bought the cd halfway through the second song.

However, no band can truly set a crowd up for the phenomenon that is Animal Collective. Their set started with a throbbing, electric pulse, which the band then built on it with layers and layers of inchoate sound. The whole show was meiculously produced but never contrived, despite the band's dangerous flirtation with the gimmicky, like a drummer named Panda Bear (I would have been totally ok with it if his name were Butterstick; I'm no hypocrite). I still don''t understand what the hell "The Geologist" was up to- as far as I could tell, his job was to stand centerstage, working the bells and whistles soundboard and to wear a headlamp-not unlike a miner's light (get it?). It sounds gimmicky, doesn't it? But it actually added to the fervor of the show- Geologist shook his head back and forth the whole concert, sending out strobes of "NO! NO! NO!"- almost as if he was protesting the intensity of it all.

The strongest aspect of the show was easily the harrowing vocals. Avey Tare gruesomely manipulated his voice from a sweet, droning murmur to a guttural scream and back again in the timespace of a footstep. Occasionally through the layers of chaos, melody briefly emerged- desperately beautiful moments that sank back into the mire of tonality. You'd think such moments would be frustrating teasers, but they were gratifying, like coming up for air after exploring underwater for a long time. I haven't actually ever done that, but I imagine the feeling is just about the same, except that there were no fish at the concert. That was also one of the highlights of the concert- no fish.

The effect of it all was devastating, making the concert experience manic, dissociative and oddly euphoric. Animal Collective kneads their way through a loose definition of music, exploring every emotion in the spectrum of human experience and creating a sound to match it. Hearing my emotions so vividly expressed through sound pained but also comforted me- not because of some symbiotic understanding, but because someone out there simply feels the need to express it.


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