Thursday, October 27, 2005

Wildlife Extravaganza

Animal Collective/Caribou/Aoki Takamasa and Tojiko Noriko/Kieren Hebden – The Scala, London 25/10/05

Bloody hell – I should really make it to Eat Your Own Ears gigs more often. What a superb line-up! Well, now I’ve got the free advertising for an excellent promotions company out of the way, we can get down to the nitty gritty of reviewing the evening’s music…

The Scala was packed out tonight, which I found pleasantly surprising after my last experience there (a half-empty but entertainingly shambolic Alfie gig). Given that these acts make challenging, sometimes confrontational music that is unlikely to get much in the way of radio or TV exposure, it’s refreshing to realise that such material can indeed attract a substantial audience. The Scala makes for the perfect evening for this sort of affair, and it was pleasing to see joyous dancers and chin-strokers in equal measure.

First up, Aoki Takamasa and Tojiko Noriko soothed us with their beguiling electronic reveries. It was certainly all very pretty, but really no more than exactly what you’d expect a Japanese male/female laptop electronica duo to sound like. Of all the acts on tonight’s bill, they were the least concerned with pushing boundaries, dealing as they did with the kind of delicately rustling sounds so familiar to anyone who has ever heard the likes of Susumu Yokota.

That could not be said for DJ Kieren Hebden (Four Tet) who managed to play intelligently selected and frequently inspiring records in between the live performances. I must confess that I have no idea what most of these records were, but Hebden’s avowedly anti-specialist sets veered between genres with effortless ease.

Dan Snaith’s Caribou may have had an enforced name change, but their sonic brand remains very much intact. Despite an obvious reliance on electronics and backing tracks, it’s often hard to believe that there are just three musicians on stage, especially when two of them are bashing seven shades of shit from two drum kits. This is highly kinetic, thrilling stuff. The Krautrock-inspired grooves are appropriately relentless, but it’s the unrestrained arrangements which add originality and invention to the mix, and the mid-song instrument swapping is a joy to watch. It all seems to have been mapped out with mathematical precision, although Snaith is wise enough to leave room for an old-fashioned, summery approach to a good melody which contrasts neatly with the frequently frenetic music.

If Animal Collective are sometimes baffling on record, as a live band they are totally bonkers. It’s not too much of an exaggeration to state that this really sounded (and arguably looked) like nothing else around. It was a complete performance, with Panda Bear standing, energised and focussed behind his skeletal drum kit, and Avey Tare and Geologist trading quirky physical movements. Animal Collective’s killer weapon lies in their brilliantly executed vocal choreography, not just in terms of conventional harmonies, but also in their intricately competing yelps and screams. This made for a percussive performance in the broadest possible sense of the word.

Tonight’s set was divided into four extended segments which combined pre-released material (mostly from the excellent new album ‘Feels’) with the band’s customary tendency to develop prototypes of new material on the road. The integration of drones and electronic sounds with post-rock infused guitars arguably sounded more comfortable than it does on record, and it’s pleasing that the band seem to be leaving the more provocative, high-treble feedback experiments of their earlier records behind. Where once they may have preferred to bury their peculiar lyrics and turbulent melodies beneath thick swathes of noise, they have now developed an effective means of combining the various elements of their sound.
Influences can be detected beneath the dense and quirky exterior – perhaps the clearest is Syd Barrett’s taste for nonsense poetry and confounding song structures. If Animal Collective refer to any formative template though, they have stretched and manipulated it into something modern and largely unrecognisable. They have crafted a weird and wonderful world that is entirely their own.

No comments: