Last night at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater (Alpharetta, GA), Scott and I took in a show. The Animal Collective is possibly the most influential and mainstream electronica band on the scene today. Since their 2009 whirlwind album Merriweather Post Pavillion , they have been an indie mainstay. However, their 2009 moment was not alone, that same year Grizzly Bear released Vecktamist and Yeasayer’s All Hour Symbols was receiving a resurgence after appearing on several albums and being identified as a top album of the 2000s. The electronica of the late 2000s was different then that of the 80s. Unlike the looping and canned nature of 1980’s synth pop, the indie electronica of the 2000s-2010s, is instrumentalized. The Phil Spector wave of sound fills the room and the amphitheatre. However, can it work live.
As a newcomer to the electronica scene, as someone who is not a club guy either, I was concerned. I had always associated the driving bass beat and the rhythmic and looping sounds with dancing techno, but Animal Collective seems almost undanceable. On top of this, I had no idea how much of the music is them, versus looped synthesizer. Would the music be a man on a Mac Book hitting play on iTunes or something more pretentious?
Upon entering the venue, Scott and I entered a parking area (one of three) less than half full as the warbles of the first opener appeared over the horizon. On stage, Angel Deradoorian’s self-titled project Deradoorian was among the fake crystals of the Animal Collective set pieces. Her sound was what I was concerned with. As a one woman show, she had her MacBook, guitar on loops and a synth board in front of her. However, as I had never heard her before, her act was fresh and very good, but the sound engineer at the venue did her no favors.
We got bomber sized beers and settled into the empty seats for the headliner to take the stage. Deradoorian was replaced by Atlas Sound, an Atlanta local named Bradford Cox. As the make-up, gaunt figure took the stage, he entered into an impressive series of songs. In some ways, his music is almost frustratingly untraditional. He music flows seamlessly into another, more often then not he would pick an obscure beat or looped effect from the song nearing the length he assigned it, dump the rest and base the new song off this particular structure. The net effect leaves those in the audience unaware of when to applaud. However, the music was pristine and polished. He broke the nearly hour-long set only once for stage banter.
During the break, Scott and I moved toward the orchestra pit. The orchestra pit seats had been removed and the entire venue had been converted to general admission. As the stage was adjusted slightly and lit, the crowd seemed to swell around the stage. I have no idea how many ended up at the show, but the final audience mostly filled the pit.
The stage looked like Superman’s Arctic Hideout in an 80’s movie with a giant red and stain glass head in the background. Their were red bats with silver backing on string lights, jostled by a stage hand. All the novelty diamonds glowed and changed color and projectors flashed rotating gremlins on the center stage and trippy images on the eyes and mouth of the giant face.
As the band took the stage, the audience cheered. The humidity thickened with the body heat and the smoke from the crowd. The music started awkward and discordant. The songs never ended, but unlike the opener Atlas Sound, the transitional music seemed forced and often wrong. The band refused to play in the entire concert, but perhaps six songs I had heard before; and by the actions of the rest of the crowd, even those in the first rows, they had not heard more than half the songs (10-12) before either. As the concert progressed, the energy increased. The cacophonous atonality became raucous, almost charging movement. As drummer, Panda Bear never stopped moving and created a powerful beat. They managed to jam in a way I never thought of. The crowd, made up of mostly painted hippies, swayed and grooved; pinnacled in a nearly out of control version of Summertime Clothes.
In the end, the band wanted to do us no favors. Even in the encore, of the three songs they played, the audience knew one (in a fresh version) and the first two dragged. They are known for trying new stuff on the road, which was the case that night, and they were clearly practicing for a festival and a European tour. As one of the first shows on the tour, they were rough. However, as the energy grew, the show improved. You should see them if you can and watch for more of Bradford Cox.
Stealing an idea from Bob Boilen at NPR Music, I have made a 60-second Video of the Concert.
Also, hear Summertime Clothes