Birmingham is four hours from where I stay, so I don’t often visit just to see any flavor-of-the-week indie rock band. Nope, if I’m gonna invest the time in an epic journey across state lines, time, and space, it’s going to have to be special. Last time, it was Califone, this time the Animal Collective. Was it worth it? Telling this early would be no fun.
The Bottle Tree is a nice venue; if I actually lived within a reasonable leap, I might go more often. It’s small, but by no means a dive. The staff are friendly and enjoy their jobs, and I always meet cool people when I go. The only problem is that it’s a no smoking joint, but there’s a patio to accommodate the nicotine slaves among us.
For the Animal Collective, somebody oversold the goddam venue, and the bitch was packed with 300+ people in a room the size of a small McDonald’s. We were crammed against a video screen at the front of the stage, while the lamest musical ever about a future where every one is lame flickered above, accompanied by unrecognizable alt-metal and the occasional indie or classic rock chestnut. Then, they put on some Sid and Marty Krofft shit, and people started to grumble in earnest.
The opener, Sir Richard Bishop, started late at 9:45. He played an acoustic guitar really well, really fast, and, to me, really fucking boring. Technical prowess aside, it just didn’t move me. Plus, he’s totally not British. That goddam Sir had me fooled. So after about 45 minutes of acoustic torture, they lower the screen again, and everyone groans. It’s only down for about 10 minutes though, before the Animal Collective begin to play.
Some initial things you should know: these dudes look pretty young, they have a blast onstage, and nary a one of them picked up a guitar. Their set up consisted of:
1. Numerous relay pedals and assorted electronic noisemakers arranged haphazardly about the stage on tables, wires crossed and multicolored like some Tokyo nightmare of futuresex.
2. A floor tom
3. A bongo drum
4. A crash cymbal
5. A hi-hat
6. A keyboard
And that’s it. I thought it was a joke, but then they started playing and nothing was funny. A friend of mine once said that Black Dice sounded like whales having sex in a time machine (to which I replied,”That’s exactly what it is. Their studio budget was off the chain!”), and I mention this because Animal Collective and Black Dice are kindred spirits- in that they are both concerned with shaping chaotic noise into rhythmic, orderly patterns. They are both noise bands. Now, I know some of you think that Animal Collective is a pop band, and you’re also right, but their live show makes it obvious that they are, first and foremost, a noise band. Sure, they blur normally sharp tones into more pleasing aural experiences, and that trade abrasive for softened tones, but beautiful noise is still just that: noise.
Oh, was it beautiful. They played for damn near two hours. Don’t even ask me for a setlist, because most of what they played was unrecognizable, awesome new stuff. People shook their asses like WWIII was coming, your humble reporter included. Even the few songs I knew that they played (“Who Could Win a Rabbit,” “Leaf House,”) were so radically transformed that they seemed new.
The show was as much akin to a religious experience as anything outside of church. It was one of the most awesome things I have ever seen. Thanks Avey, Panda, and Geologist. That shit rocked. And special thanks to Avey again, for taking a minute to chat with a total music nerd and sign his CD.