Though audience numbers seem lower than those of their last visit, and the mood more respectful that jubilant, it’s clear Animal Collective command a loyal following. Few of who are intrigued enough to arrive early for support act Africa HiTech; a duo working a laptop, turntables, a mixer and a small synth. Starting out by meshing soundscapes and soulful singing over some Kompakt style minimalist techno, we’re soon treated to a journey through 90s dance music, complete with 80s new wave sampling. Beats become more complex as bubbling synth lines and squelchy sine waves ride heavily compressed beats and occasional looped raps. It’s oddly nostalgic and incredibly infectious.
The crowd packs in as 9:45 approaches. Lights dim, chatter is replaced with cheers as radio samples ricochet and flickering saturated projections light the stage, lined with large inflatable glowing teeth and arching tentacles. The four members emerge to a rise in cheers and immediately begin tweaking dials, pushing buttons and gently drumming. Easing into Rosie Oh, the projections move from being vibrant patterns to cut-up nature documentaries and clips from bucolic animated films. Drummer Noah Lennox takes the lead vocals and his voice is unusually strong and clear. Keyboardist Avey Tare leads us through almost every other song in the set, from the ensuing Today’s Supernatural on; his vocals style tends more toward manic passion than guitarist Josh Dibb’s more grounded delivery and Lennox’s more varied expressiveness.
Recent single Honeycomb and most of latest album Centipede Hz get an airing, and though the crowd responds vocally, there is little physical involvement. Animal Collective show a near pathological fear of silence as songs segue into and out of each other, and disappear into patches of sprawling atonal and percussive chaos. These are gleefully disorientating at times, but just as often suffocating and meandering, a superfluity of ideas and their clumsy merging betrays a lack of editing that seems oddly appropriate for this age of three-hour movies. It’s a lack of rigour apparent in the songwriting too; many songs sound more like four people exploring a vague theme rather than a band fleshing out a song. Passages of fantastic loping polyrhythms underscore many of the newer songs (like Moonjock and Monkey Riches) but, unlike their finer moments, there seems to be no strong personality or theme, though the colour scheme of saturated red and fluro pink and green is bold and original. The appearance of older track Lion in a Coma wakes the crowd and its space, vocal harmonies and simpler rhythms stand in stark contrast. The same is true for 2009’s Brother Sport, which triggers an explosion of glee in the crowd, a feeling capitalized on by its extended rave-like outro and merge into set-closing thrill of Peacebone. Returning for an encore that features a new unnamed song, a boisterous take on My Girls and the Centipede Hz track Amanita the band leave us sated for another year and, it seems, another album.