Animal Collective was in Los Angeles last year performing a headlining show at the Hollywood Bowl. Let that sink in for a minute: Animal Collective at the Hollywood Bowl. That’s huge for them. Massive, actually, considering the experimental group from Baltimore was mostly just critical darlings with a fairly considerable fan base before 2009.
Ever since the release of their breakthrough album Merriweather Post Pavilion and its follow-up, Centipede Hz, Animal Collective has been on the fast track to gaining a bigger audience, filling bigger venues to the back of their respective houses and creating elaborate stage productions that easily justify the price of admission to such places.
As I’m a member of that considerable fan base who’d lauded their breakthrough and continued to discover new sounds amongst their previous efforts, you can imagine how disappointed I was when I missed their Hollywood Bowl performance. I had a weird feeling I wouldn’t be seeing the band out in Los Angeles again until they toured for their next LP, and having to wait that long for such an event was not something I was looking forward to. I shouldn’t have given in to my worrier tendencies, however, because I got my chance to see Animal Collective at The Wiltern last week for a KCRW-presented show that, according to others I’d talked to, was an even better and more appropriately-sized show than the one at the Bowl.
Photos by Melissa Karlin
The stage was draped in a similar fashion to those Animal Collective performances I had seen over the past year via YouTube. Emulating the mouth with teeth that graced the cover of the recent Centipede Hz album, the design acted as a active participant in the production, interestingly only lighting up the audience in its bounty of colors, as if to completely shroud the band members — David Portner (Avey Tare), Noah Lennox (Panda Bear), Brian Weitz (Geologist), and Josh Dibb (Deakin) — in darkness like the inside a literal mouth. The four performers were only slightly lit with hazy animated projections that mimicked Centipede’s radio transference motif.
The performance itself was everything I could have asked for in an Animal Collective concert. The dynamics were expectedly varied and spacey, even considering the density found throughout most of Centipede Hz, and each band member contributed a little something extra during the night, whether it be a vocal harmony or a sudden burst of energy that heightened their individual performance.
While I might have loved to see a little bit more of the improvisation that the group is known to do live over the more patterned song structure, I really couldn’t argue with their setlist, which included tracks from 2005′s Feels (“Did You See The Words,” “Purple Bottle”) and the Fall Be Kind EP (“I Think I Can”). It was perhaps most noteworthy for containing my top three songs from the entire Animal Collective catalog (“What Would I Want? Sky,” “Brothersport,” and “Peacebone”).
I also might agree with other patrons at The Wiltern that night that it was a better performance than the Hollywood Bowl a year ago, even though I didn’t attend that previous show. I understand that performing there must have been a major step forward as far as the band was concerned, but The Wiltern has always been known for its fantastic acoustics and amazing sight lines — attributes that don’t necessarily apply to the Bowl. The fact that the show took place in an enclosure versus an outdoor environment was also a major contributor to my having a great time at The Wiltern, as colors were more vivid coming from a stage that was obviously much closer to me.
Animal Collective has been touring for Centipede Hz for a year now, but they didn’t sound the least bit exhausted even after setbacks in recent months. They were at the top of their game as best as I know, and I was completely satisfied by the show they put on at The Wiltern. They sounded very much like the Animal Collective I fell in love with, and I feel like I know now that the best way to see them is in an enclosed space, where you can be a part of the mesmerizing action instead of merely a spectator of it.
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