ANIMAL COLLECTIVE with FIRST NATION and BARR at the Opera House, February 23. Tickets: $15. Attendance: sold out. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
While experimental rock kooks Animal Collective are adjusting to their newly swelled popularity, they're not immune to a few growing pains.
Gone are the days of dressing up like turtles and bunnies from Acid In Wonderland and playing to intimate crowds of beard-stroking members of the arms-crossed club. Thursday's show, originally booked for Lee's Palace the venue they played the last time they hit T.O. demanded an upsize to the Opera House after a light-speed sellout, likely fuelled by soaring interest in their latest disc, Feels.
They may be an esoteric group of experimental popsmiths with a penchant for noise, field recordings and drum-circle primitivism, but they're now in a position to engage thousand-plus crowds with the expectations that accompany higher ticket prices. Fortunately, AC can cope for the most part, even if moments in Friday's show suggested that their transition from obscuro to fashionable is a bit shaky.
Up first was Barr , whose neurotic spoken-word and canned beats might be more endearing at coffee-house open-rant nights. At the Opera House, his lyrical eccentricities felt grating. Next was First Nation , who made matters worse by demonstrating instrumental skills only marginally more impressive than a grade 7 band class. You could feel the wave of boredom flow from the balcony bar down to the front row and break into a crescendo of private conversation that eventually crashed over First Nation's missed notes and breathless vocals.
The sting of opening-band hell was soothed as Animal Collective's centre-stage weirdo, Geologist ( Brian Weitz ), strapped on his miner's head-lamp and began fiddling with his effects box. Singer Avey Tare ( Dave Portner ), drummer Panda Bear ( Noah Lennox ) and guitarist Conrad Deakin followed with a future-primitive-sounding wash of pulsated drone under Tare's wobbly vocals.
The four members of AC go way back (to their Baltimore childhoods), and their comfort level was evident in the way they euphorically twirled, hopped and danced like kids at a druggy, midnight bush party while howling layered, reverb-drenched a cappella songs from 04's Sung Tongs into the night.
Still, this crowd came for Feels, and when the soundscape intro to semi-hit Grass kicked in, fists pumped in one of the evening's few moments of audience interaction. Not that beaming fans minded it's actually better to quietly observe Animal Collective in their habitat than to get too excited and scare them off.