Review of the concert: Animal Collective at the 9:30 Club
The band’s latest album, “Time Skiffs,” features the quartet in near-peak form, riffing on existence in our increasingly endangered and fragile ecosystem. Animal Collective thrives on layering hypnotic, interwoven vocal harmonies over piercing beeps and blorps conjured up from stacks of synthesizers. On stage, Avey Tare (Dave Portner) and Panda Bear (Noah Lennox) played ping pong to gooey melodies with cathartic barking, while the Geologist (Brian Weitz) and Deakin (Josh Dibb) played effortlessly rocked an assemblage of instruments (including a hurdy-gurdy) to create enveloping soundscapes.
The pacing of their live show struck a nice balance between push-pull bliss and creepy jams. Tracks from ‘Time Skiffs’ shared space with selections from their standout 2007 ‘Strawberry Jam’ – including ‘Chores’ and closing number ‘For Reverend Green’.
But the elephant in the Animal Collective playroom is still “Merriweather Post Pavilion.” The 2009 album, named after the amphitheater in Columbia, Maryland, earned its place as a cultural touchstone of the indie rock boom of the late 2000s, one that suited the blossoming sunshine of the Obama era. (The album opener “In the Flowers” earned one of the crowd’s biggest hits.)
It’s trendy to surf the waves of nostalgia. This quest to rebuild a brighter and better future through the prism of a dimly remembered past (which we are unreasonably sure was worth it) tempts us with the possibility of clarity on the road ahead.
Media material for “Time Skiffs” refers to it as a “comeback album” after years of solo and experimental work – it’s the first album in a decade to feature all four members. Groups and albums tend to be categorized this way. In time lore, we expect each new release to build on the latest or, in the case of such a seminal work as “Merriweather”, to make things more similar.
I spoke with Weitz in 2018 about the band’s visual album “Tangerine Reef,” which was a plea to fight the rapid destruction of coral reefs, and asked if the band felt any pressure to think about creating works along a timeline.
“People are finding out about us, like high school kids now,” Weitz said at the time. “There are quite a number of jobs they can get into. For them, it’s not a linear experience of what happened after what and what happened in their lives.
Animal Collective may have found the secret to cheat time – or they found a map of streaming algorithms that offer everything but the direction to go.