Panda Bear

The last time I saw Panda Bear on stage it was with his bandmates in Animal Collective, who at that point had seen their stock rise to an unlikely headline show at the Hollywood Bowl. Surrounded by a suitably elaborate and unorthodox stage setup (which included inflatable teeth, if I remember rightly), the band in truth looked a little lost, and Panda Bear (aka Noah Lennox), in particular, seemed to disappear towards the back of the stage.

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All photos by Laura Chirinos

The artist’s solo show at the relatively intimate El Rey Theatre gave him a chance to showcase some of the solo material that allowed him to step out of his band’s shadow with the excellent Person Pitch a few years back, an album that’s arguably even better than anything in his band’s golden run of records from the latter half of the last decade. He has been quiet since Tomboy, but judging by the flood of unfamiliar material he played during his hour on stage in LA last week, it’s safe to predict that a new Panda Bear album will be forthcoming.

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And how might that album sound? Well, it sounds like Lennox’s beats have got a little funkier, with a touch more of a hip-hop flavor. He also seems to be sticking with the briefer song structures found on his last album as opposed to the sprawling nature of earlier tracks such as “Bros.” Otherwise, it’s business as usual, which, in his case, means Beach Boys-style vocals on top of gleefully experimental sounds that are impossible to classify but, when put together, end up sounding something like pop songs thanks to Lennox’s alchemic wizardry.

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The issues with the show arose from the very approach that makes Panda Bear and Animal Collective shows so popular in the first place. Getting to hear new material in advance of any release is appealing, but it meant that the audience was slow to respond and warm up to it. It was notable that the biggest response was saved for “Last Night At The Jetty” during the encore. On top of that, the show came the night after the end of a long holiday weekend, which led to a feeling of widespread lethargy despite the sold-out status.

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None of this, however, was down to Lennox himself, who was backed by a trippy and psychedelic visual backdrop throughout the show and seemed to have a good energy level. His voice, which can be a little erratic live, sounded particularly strong throughout the set. Judging by the material on display, we might have a treat of an album on the way after the ever-so-slightly lackluster Tomboy (by his own very high standards). There is still the sense that Lennox’s strength is in the studio as opposed to in front of a crowd, but for all that, it was a big improvement on his band’s performance at the Bowl; it may just be that Panda Bear and his colleagues are still getting used to their accidental but undoubted popularity.

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Panda Bear