Review: Animal Collective @ The Forum, London. March 24th 2009

mp3: Animal Collective – My Girls

Animal Collective have been creating music for 10 years and first received quiet acclaim in 2004 on the release of Sung Tongs, however their uncompromising experimental sound, unable to be pinned down by writers and fans alike, kept them rooted firmly in the music underground. This is no longer the case it would seem, as a few days before The Forum show, Jo Wiley played My Girls, from their latest album Merriweather Post Pavilion on Radio 1. Initially, it’s a real surprise to hear them getting such mainstream acclaim but in their latest album, what they have created is an electronic, multicoloured extravaganza of dizzyingly beautiful melody and infectious dance anthems worthy of such recognition.

As a result, Animal Collective have a broad spectrum of fans and it certainly feels like this stepping into the Forum. There are the originals who swarm protectively to the front of the stage immediately upon entering the venue. They are surrounded by luminous, bounding scenesters proud to have discovered the band at the same time as Jo Wiley. The originals cast them no heed. The scenesters wouldn’t have noticed anyway. Scattered just behind them are the self-conscious aficionados and the check-shirted-content-appreciators. The mix in the audience is testament to the band’s capability for extremes of music, from introspective experimentation at one end, to hook laden, pulsating pop songs at the other.  The live show was an equal measure of both.

The performance begins with the aboriginal and meandering sounds of ‘Lion in a Coma’, which demands far more attention live than on record. The vocals however are muddy and won’t be improved at any point during the show, but by the time ‘My Girls’ has started, the crowd are already hooked. A sense of euphoria takes over the venue as the song builds but it just plateaus. Over the course of the show, Merriweather songs will dominate the set list and so, playing to their new crowd, they seem to miss a trick by not dropping ‘My Girls’ into anything remotely danceable. Heads nod as it builds but then stop where the bass should have kicked in loud and insistent. The songs blend one into another into a transfixing blur of absorbing electronic noodling, smoke and multi-coloured light. ‘Summertime Clothes’ passes through the haze, the lack of vocal clarity fuelling the dizzying, multi-layered shroud of sound and light. The crowd are brought back to reality by the intense and powerfully delivered ‘Slippi’; early material which has originals and newcomers alike wide eyed and captivated.

The show then drops again beneath the surface into their improvised and sometimes indecipherable world with a flourish of songs from Merriweather including ‘Daily Routine’, ‘Guys Eyes’ and ‘Also Frightened’. It feels slightly like a lost fifteen minutes, swimming, eyes squinting against a dazzling current of overlapping effects, yelps, alternating time signatures and off beats. The crowd waits for a glimmer of a line or riff they recognise. The group duly obliges, as through the mist pokes the familiar ‘oooh way ooos’ of ‘Fireworks’ and the crowd pushes spluttering to the surface to revel in the familiar sounds. This is followed by the indisputable highlight of the night, ‘Brothersport’, which is greeted with rapture. As the beats become more tribal and intense and the movement from the crowd more frenzied, the band carry everyone into an almost spiritual dance. It is a noticeable release, and caught up in a now carnival atmosphere, it is obvious that the majority had been waiting for this moment, now overcome by the intensity of colour and noise.

They leave the stage to rapturous praise, to return for the obligatory encore with the beautiful ‘In the Flowers’ and finally ‘Leaf House’, which is a strong nod to their early incarnation and the origin of their unique sound.

The band seem to occupy their very own space at the moment, toeing a line between self-absorbed noodling and rave, experimentation and popular acclaim, frustration and unadulterated perfection. It seems clear that all are essential to the creature Animal Collective has evolved into, to remain free and unbridled, capable of enthralling aloof originals, relentless scenesters and newcomers alike. And to all at the Forum, it is abundantly clear that this is a unique and most special animal indeed.

Oli Smeeth

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One Response to “Review: Animal Collective @ The Forum, London. March 24th 2009”

  1. Great review Oli, made me feel like I was there. Gutted I wasn’t!

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