Animal Collective

31.08.09 Words by: Charlie Jones

It’s probably fair to say that the hours preceding the Animal Collective at Brixton Academy could have gone better. My date cancelled, my iPod broke on the train into London and I was held up by 15 minutes in a sweltering tube for no apparent reason. With the weak beer going down pretty unpleasantly, I tried to enjoy Gang Gang Dance, featured in Dummy in June. On paper they should be amazing. I like heavy tribal drumming, Kate Bush, The Knife and Mercury Rev but, for me, all of this played together is a bit like getting loads of different coloured plasticine and mashing into one giant ball. I didn’t get a psychadelic bouncing ball that would be the best toy ever made. All that happened was the once vibrant primary colours turned into a quagmire. A Passchandale of colour and texture. My mind had begun to resemble this ball of plasticine after the first fifteen minutes of the set, which was, incidentally, still the first song. I went to get another weak beer.  

It wasn’t long before the Animal Collective came on. By now I was in a foul mood. I was really hoping that they could lift my brain from out of the sludge. Their set consisted of every song from Merriweather Post Pavilion, of which I‘m a massive fan. It’s such a vivacious, pulsating, infectious, joyous album. ‘My Girls and ‘Lion in a Coma’ epitomise their craft, skilfully adapting simple little indie songs into astonishing epics spiked with electronica that conjure up euphoria from the depths of my mind. But what I really love about the album is that its aural complexity never undermines the clarity of expression. Every time I hear it, Animal Collective take my plasticine and make a swirling, multicoloured double helix that pirouettes around the room.  

It was so frustrating, then, that I had such an unbearable time watching them play. I don’t know who runs Brixton Academy but this was not the first gig I’ve been to there that was ruined by the sound quality. It was shocking; so muddy and one dimensional. It was like a blanket of sound which completely undermined the intricate detail of the Animal Collective’s sound. Their stage presence was massively underwhelming too, and their lighting so lifeless that the whole debacle made me furious. As well as building hatred for the people around me, I began to indulge my pretension and forge lofty ideas for an angle for this review. I thought about the summers of love in ‘67 and ‘88 and whether anything like that would happen in ‘09. I decided that all the things that had since killed the drugged-up unity and empowerment of those previous summers had already taken place, and that it didn’t really matter anyway because acid and ecstasy had been replaced with Ketamine, a drug that only induced isolation and self-love. I thought about all these things and had a scathing, scalding review in my head.

Here’s the rub, though. The fog sitting on my brain and the red mist in my vision lifted as soon as I got home and listened to the Animal Collective again. I’d had a spectacularly awful night, but they are such a spectacularly good band. Paradoxically, that night was all the affirmation I ever needed that the Animal Collective are a band that will be very dear to me for a long time. If there was ever a reason needed to go and see a band, I don’t think they come any better than that.

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