This is a follow up on my last post, where, having just seen them live, I pointed out what I considered a crucial flaw in the recent Grateful Dead/Animal Collective analogy that the members of the group themselves have alluded to several times in interviews recently.
First of all, this brings to mind an hilarious incident from several years ago. I was at a large outdoor Todd P event, which was held down on the tip of Roosevelt Island (which remains my favorite place in the universe. The whole of Roosevelt Island, really, but especially the tip). Many bands were performing acoustically, including a number of people who are now quite famous (Ezra, the singer from Vampire Weekend, for instance, was there, with really long hair, playing saxophone with Aa. Matt & Kim played that addictive hit of theirs before it had really blown up).
But this is beside the point.
I overheard a person who has become something of an Avant/Indie icon in years since talking with Todd P. This person was like: "Dude, why is that guy wearing a Grateful Dead t-shirt? We (meaning the Todd P movement, or whatever) are so not about that. That is so not about this." At this point, it was my distinct misforture to chime in with something like "Well, actually, he's probably wearing it because one of their keyboard players committed suicide the other day; I wouldn't take it too ideologically, in light of recent events."
Todd P and this person met this suggestion with indifference (or so I thought) because, while it was correct, it in no way altered the true sentiment that had been expressed: this movement, this barbecue, this "type of DiY Brooklyn thing" was philosophically opposed to all things Jam Band, all things hedonistic; this thing wasn't like the failed utopianisms of the 1960s, this thing was different, an extension of punk that was utterly horrified by the banal "trustafarian" jam band/Phish culture of the late 90s. This was way more serious, way less commercial, way closer to the world of Art than the world of the stoned rich kids. This was about doing it yourself and not selling out.
But of course it wasn't then, and isn't now, simply because it can't be; that very rejection of utopianism in the name of an allegedly more refined, purer dedication to art is itself a utopian gesture. Of course the Brooklyn scene had (has?) in it elements that would never fly in a jam band context, namely dissonance and disruptive, analytical song structures, etc, but that is quite academic. Differences aside, a potentially monstrous child, a "terrible beauty," is born...
Let's examine why this is potentially problematic.
Brooklyn is high on organization, not at all into spontaneous jamming unless it is REALLY out jamming (which is actually composed), or is done in a knowing and/or correctly positioned way.
Brooklyn is about songs, not about improvisation. Brooklyn is about Mahler, not Miles Davis (I disown this statement--ed.). Jamming is out, and concise, exact, infinitely repeatable songs are in. (Woods, who I didn't know in January, wildly disprove this. They are incredible...--ed.)
But this is breaking down. The biggest bands these days, groups like Deerhunter (who I linked to above), for instance, have embraced an element of 'seemingly improvised' guitar fuzz soloing into their songs. This, a few years ago, would have been frowned upon, but as the Indie---->Mainstream transformation continues (this thesis is flawed for many reasons. No more disclaiming edits.--ed.), such gestures towards "classic rock" are more accepted by audiences and 'tastemakers' alike.
This brings us back to Animal Collective. Their shows do share things with those of the Grateful Dead. They also share certain audience members with the (about to return to save us all) Phish scene. For instance, the other night there was a kid dancing frantically in front of me the whole night. He was a small, weaselly looking guy with two earrings who clearly had been to his share of Phish shows (as have I, full disclosure). All he lacked was that glazed over look of stoned/mushroomed insanity and a pair of glow-sticks.
And this was "not what this was about" a few years ago. I saw Animal Collective in a small space back in 2005, and it wasn't like this, it was much more the "stand perfectly still, don't move, that's not what WE do" crowd one is accustomed to encountering at Brooklyn shows.
No more. The move to the mainstream, the jamminess/raviness of the music, draws in the crowds, and the Brooklyn Fascists can't do anything to stop it. And, ironically, they need those people, now more than ever.
These artists, in the fat economic times of 2006, must have believed that if things ever really got tight, they could always bail out, get a corporate job based on their degree from Vassar or whatever, and everything would be okay.
But that ship has sailed. No one is hiring. If you are an avant musician/home depot employee, that is your lot for the foreseeable future, and you are glad for it.
But there are still plenty of people paying to see music. Especially hypnotic music with a physical element. Music you can wig out to, if you catch my drift, music you can use to "get away from it all."
And thus here we are. Animal Collective are more Brooklyn than Brooklyn, yet they flirt with the jam band scene. The circle is closed.
I remember a few years ago (07 I think), my parents asked me to take my younger brother to a Dave Matthews concert at Fenway Park in Boston. I grudgingly accepted, knowing it would be awful, but hoping to find it at least socialogically worthwhile. I could not have been more wrong. The audience was, without a doubt, the preppiest, whitest, absolutely most bourgeois middle-class America of any crowd I have ever seen. It was mind boggling (if not exactly surprising).
And yet, there they were, 25,000 or more of them, filling this stadium, filling the pockets of the band and all associated with it.
I hate to say it, but are we headed in that direction? Has the avant garde truly died at last?
Of course not. But this merging of scenes bears watching.
Armchair sociological speculation aside, Merriweather Post Pavilion is absolutely incredible. Such great bass samples.