Written by Mike Barnett
Impressions from the Animal Collective show at The Rialto Theater in Tucson, AZ on October 9, 2019.
Experimental pop band Animal Collective took the stage quickly at The Rialto Theater, with their heads down, ready to get to work at making their weird magic. When the shrieks and shouts from the room died down they were already building into something. Animal Collective always looks like they just woke up out of a dorm room and ate a bowl of cereal. But instead of getting high and playing video games they got high and made music. I love when bands don't stress their image. What does that have to do with music anyway? I wonder if their parents ever tried to convince them they'd never get a job if they didn't cut their hair and clean their clothes. No make-up, no matching outfits. Their fans really don't seem to care. And they didn't say much between songs except Avey Tare: "It's been a while since we've been here" and "We're playing a lot of new songs. Thanks for going along for the ride."
Tucson is often a testing ground for national acts to try new material on their way to California or Texas. With 10 studio albums, nine EPs, and three live albums behind them, Animal Collective boldly revisited only four songs from two albums for their set in TucsonI got tickets knowing Animal Collective wasn’t a jukebox band, but I held out hope they’d play at least one of my favorites.
Some of the new songs were almost entirely arrhythmic, huge washes of complimentary vocal harmonies and textural synth garble. Some featured heavily auto-tuned singing from Avey Tare supported by vocal walls from Panda Bear and Deakin, and one was sung entirely by Deakin, whose voice I had never heard on its own. One song sounded like a minimalist Gregorian Chant via the Beach Boys and with matching visuals of two-dimensional paper kings bowing as they marched across the back curtain. Their favorite song structure is still the slow building crescendo, which culminates in a vast and gentle release or noisy disintegration. Their use of low-end bass was also refreshingly sparse, reserved for moments of peak, chest-shaking intensity. Panda Bear, at the drums, impressively never played the backbeat, but only syncopation and organic spasms over the pulse.
The four songs which everyone (loudly) recognized were "Banshee Beat" and "Grass" from Feels, and "In the Flowers" and "No More Running" from Merriweather Post Pavilion. Both of these albums carry heavy nostalgia for me and, I’m sure, many others in the audience feel the same. If I had to guess why they played so few crowd favorites, it's probably that Animal Collective wanted to play for themselves as much as for the audience. The sweeter moments of the show are that much sweeter when they're fewer. It's like a lottery seeing Animal Collective; maybe you'll hear the song you were hoping for if you're lucky, but in Tucson with a band on their way to Desert Daze the odds are against it.