ANIMAL COLLECTIVE with ANIMAL MONSTER at Lee's Palace (529 Bloor West), tonight (Thursday, November 11). $14. 416-532-1598. Rating: NNNNN
Pop quiz: your band is onstage playing a show. All the kids are digging it. The sound is amazing. Then, all of a sudden, gear starts breaking down. Everything grinds to a halt. What do you do? OK, if you're lip-synching, you're screwed. But if you play in Brooklyn noise-rock-freak outfit Animal Collective, you embrace the spontaneity of the moment, pick up where you left off and continue to kick it.
"We can never rely on our equipment," says Animal Collective's Dave Porter (aka Avey Tare), sitting in a tour van barrelling toward Rhode Island. "For us it's better when (the gear) breaks down. It's a lot more fun to watch for the audience, too."
Maybe that's the charm of the Animal Collective live experience. Like a runaway train or Courtney Love on live television, uncertainty and impulse make for fascinating performances.
Teenage friends, the members of Animal Collective (Porter, Noah Lennox, Brian Weitz and Conrad Deaken) moved to Brooklyn from their home in Baltimore County in 2000. Debuting with Spirit They're Gone, Spirit They've Vanished, they followed with several obscuro releases, live albums and other odds and ends.
They also toured like demons, building a sizable fan base and helping to spawn a new movement. Some journos are calling Animal Collective, erstwhile touring mates Black Dice (who were forced to drop off the current jaunt due to some personal issues) and groups like Wolf Eyes "new noise."
Not so fast, says Porter.
"We've been touring the U.S. for about four or five years now," he says. "Our first tour was with Black Dice, and we were in an underground noise circle, especially in the Northeast.
"I never think of our music as noise. But that's the cool thing about touring right now. At least in the U.S., people are really open to new sounds. You can play a show with a really heavy band or a really scary band and people will still be open to what you're playing."
In many ways, Animal Collective have little in common with the aggression of, say, Wolf Eyes, whose almost unlistenable caustic sonic assault can peel tattoos from skin at 300 metres. Animal Collective's latest outing, Sung Tongs (Fat Cat), on the other hand, shows a discreet move toward melody.
Still, Porter says it wasn't the band's intention to write a pop record.
"We like to write songs and melodies, but it's more important for us to play together and to use our environment to write songs," he says. "With Sung Tongs, we used acoustic guitar, and there was a less-is-more kind of attitude. But we never said, 'Let's write some super-poppy songs. '"
The band's kaleidoscopic approach to making music, resulting in what a short-circuiting Lite-Brite might sound like if it could sing, throws so many different influences into the mix that categorization is futile anyway.
"A lot of people have been getting into the Sung Tongs album, and that's cool," says Porter, "but they come to the show and think we're going to play one kind of music."
So, basically, you're using your fantastic new album to trick people into coming to the live show?
"Maybe," says Porter cryptically.