Last Saturday night, Baltimore's Animal Collective played the Buckhead Theater. First, Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith opened with some psychedelic ambient electronic music.
Apparently, Smith's formative years were spent communing with nature on Orcas Island in the northwest region of Washington state, a place she describes as "one of the most magical and peaceful places I have ever been." Smith left the island to attend Berklee College of Music, where she studied composition and sound engineering, initially focusing on her voice as her primary instrument, before switching to classical guitar and piano. However, after a neighbor lent her a Buchla 100 synthesizer, she soon began sculpting lush and exciting worlds of sound.
It's logical that her sound would be appreciated by Animal Collective fans, and she didn't hurt her chances of being accepted by the audience when she opened her set with a synth line that sounded a lot like the opening of AnCo's My Girls.
Not that Animal Collective themselves bothered to play My Girls. They're touring behind their new Painting With LP and mostly played songs from that album. The only thing they played off of their wildly successful and popular 2009 album Merriweather Post Pavilion was the largely overlooked song Daily Routine, which is not even one of the stand-out songs from that recording.
Animal Collective are touring as a trio while Deakin is sitting this one out after his terrific Sleep Cycle EP. In addition to Avey Tare, Panda Bear and Geologist, the band is touring with guest drummer Jeremy Hyman of Ponytail and Avey Tare's Slasher Flicks. Saturday night, the band opened their set with Painting With's Natural Selection, followed by a cover of Martha Reeve & The Vandella's Jimmy Mack (of all things). They followed that with a couple more songs from Painting With (On Delay and Lying In The Grass), and before they lost the audience with the largely unfamiliar new material, launched into the eminently danceable single, FloriDada, from that same LP. Painting With's Vertical followed FloriDada before the first "classic" AnCo song of the night, the aforementioned Daily Routine.
It's not just the veridical pleasure of hearing the familiar sounds that made Daily Routine such a welcome addition to the set - the new songs are by and large so much less compositionally complex and texturally interesting than older AnCo material that it often sounds like a waste of the musician's talents to spend so much time with them. So after the band returned to Painting With with Summing The Wrench following Daily Routine, it was a real pleasure to enjoy an extended version of Loch Raven from 2005's Feels, followed by Alvin Row from 2000's Spirit They're Gone, Spirit They've Vanished, a song they haven't performed live before this tour.
That was pretty much the way the evening went: the new material did sound better live than the recorded versions, but the audience largely waited through the new stuff until the band offered another gem from their impressive back catalog. Disappointingly, the set ended with another Painting With song, The Burglars.
Before it sounds like I'm too disenchanted with the new material, I'll point out that I did appreciate the clever vocal interplay between Avey and Panda on many of the songs, sometimes alternating syllables in different keys on the same chorus, almost like the hocketing technique employed by Dirty Projectors. So that was cool. The new songs were fun and entertaining while they lasted, but like eating candy, once over, there was nothing left to digest. And as always with an Animal Collective show, both the stage setting, the lighting, and the projections were interesting and innovative.
As you can imagine, I was not disappointed when AnCo returned to Feels to start their encore with a long version of Bees.
One thing I really love about Animal Collective is that when they play a song, they really commit to it. There's no raised-eyebrow irony from anybody in the band when they play, and everybody seems to throw their whole selves into each song, rolling their heads, closing their eyes, and seemingly letting the music they're creating transport them away to some other dimension. Bees is a relatively slow song, especially for one of that length, but everyone on stage seemed to be completely in the moment of that song for it's entire duration, implicitly inviting the audience to join them on their journey.
Painting With's Recycling followed Bees, and the night ended with Golden Gals, another upbeat if forgettable single from Painting With. Painting With is not going to be remembered as one of Animal Collective's seminal works, and while it's understandable that the band is concentrating on their new material on this tour, both to promote album sales and also to explore ways of breathing new life into the songs for later years, it's worth noting that the show didn't include any songs from their last studio LP, 2012's Centipede Hz, another of their lesser efforts. However, the set didn't include any of their most popular songs, like My Girls, Peacebone, and Brothersport, either, or anything else from Merriweather Post Pavillion other than Daily Routine, or anything from Strawberry Jam or from their classic Sung Tongs LP.
Perhaps the best Animal Collective show I've been to was at The Tabernacle during a tour between LPs, after the Centipede Hz tour but before recording had started on Painting With. They chose freely from all of their albums and played the songs they and the audience enjoyed. Now, supporting the disappointing Painting With, they're playing the songs the audience endures in order to get to the "good stuff."
You could say that's an artist's prerogative, but you could also say it's self-indulgent. Or out-of-touch.