An industrial-strength Animal
Any vestiges of the so-called "freak-folk" movement that Animal Collective was initially (and, as they've protested, wrongly) lumped into were obliterated Thursday night at the House of Blues.
On "Merriweather Post Pavilion," AC's hotly anticipated and obsessed-over latest album, the group all but shed its remaining woodsy inclinations toward eccentric campfire melodies, Hobbit-like harmonies, and splintery instrumentation in favor of house-music beats and bass-heavy electro-pop. In other words, the new stuff, both live and on record, wouldn't have sounded out of place on an Aphex Twin or Chemical Brothers remix project.
In fact, Animal Collective's sold-out all-ages show - a 100-minute digitized slam of industrial-strength metallic beats, blistering noise, and cybernetic psychedelia with nary an acoustic guitar in sight - looked, felt, and sounded more like a rave than anything else.
New numbers such as the ecstatic "Summertime Clothes" and a shimmering "My Girls" were amplified and expanded with looped, and loopy, repetition into what occasionally became a monochromatic throb of white noise (which was, depending on your point of view, either precisely the point or pointless after the seven-minute mark). Even older material like "Who Could Win a Rabbit," from 2004's homespun "Sung Tongs," had its acoustic DNA cannibalized into a club anthem.
Working, for the moment at least, as a trio comprising vocalists Dave Portner (a.k.a. Avey Tare), Noah Lennox (a.k.a. Panda Bear), and synth-sample whiz Brian "Geologist" Weitz (Josh "Deakin" Dibb is taking a break from the band, it appears), Animal Collective remained stationary for the most part.
Lennox and Weitz played and programmed behind two banks of what looked to be sampler-synthesizers, and Portner, the most animated of the bunch, brandished an electric guitar. Save for an occasional crash of cymbal or a crack of snare, the drum kit off to the side of the stage was barely utilized. But when it was - on the Afro-Brazilian-flavored "Brother Sport," which lent the machine-like precision of the evening a richly organic core, a tribal heartbeat - the results were compelling.
No less repetitive but considerably gentler was the night's opener, Grouper, otherwise known as Portland, Ore., singer-guitarist Liz Harris. Shrouded in clouds of fog and reverb, Harris's inscrutable songs unfurled slowly and methodically in spare, circling guitar patterns and cascading feedback. Her set was only 45 minutes, but it felt like one long, painted mood, stretched out to forever.