8.17.2009

Animal Collective Grateful Dead Reconsidered


In January I saw Animal Collective and wrote a few posts about what I perceived to be the merging of the 'jam band' and the 'indie rock' scenes.

On Saturday I saw the second of the group's Prospect Park Shows. It was a large, very young crowd, and by the time the band went on around nine there was a palpable sense of anticipation in the air. The set was a mixture of material from across the band's catalog, with a focus on standouts from Merriweather Post Pavilion:

(via the above linked Brooklyn Vegan post's comments, original album in parentheses)

Grace
Summertime Clothes (MPP)
Leaf House (Sung Tongs)
Guys Eyes (MPP)
Slippi (Here Comes the Indian)
#1 (Strawberry Jam)
Also Frightened (MPP)
What Would I Want Sky (new song)
My Girls (MPP)
Fireworks (Strawberry Jam)
Brother Sport (MPP)

Encore:

In The Flowers (MPP)
Comfy In Nautica/Bleed (rework from Panda's Person Pitch)
Lion in a Coma (MPP)

The crowd seemed excited for the older songs ('Leaf House' is a favorite with old-timers) but predictably went most nuts for 'My Girls' and 'Brothersport.' As has now become traditional, the band used long segues between songs, occasionally dropping teasing hints of other material before switching into something else entirely. 'Fireworks' was almost 20 minutes long, by my reckoning, and featured an extremely extended jam sequence.

As I have pointed out before, these 'jams' are not what one would experience at a Dead show. There is none of the noodling, none of the epic crest and wave. Instead there is the sample-based repetition that is the staple of all of their recent material. The closest thing you get to a solo is Geologist playing a series of arpeggios over a simple, two chord harmonic backdrop. And that harmonic simplicity is another link between the two groups, though again the improvised elements in AnCo's sets are about interlocking layers of essentially rhythmic musical expressions, whereas the Dead achieve, at least at their peak, an oceanic blending of rhodes/bass/guitar/two drums that is closer to the blues than anything in Animal Collective's oeuvre. The pulse of Lesh is essentially different from the riveting crunch of Geologist's samples.

It was an uplifting concert for me personally, but as I was walking away from the show I found myself reconsidering everything. Is the Grateful Dead/AnCo question primarily sociological or musical? AnCo claim the Dead as a musical influence and recently licensed the first official Dead sample for their song 'What Would I want Sky.' The crowd was young, and many a spliff was ignited throughout the night (though Frank Rich helpfully reminds us "Only pot remains eternal" and thus is no longer an effective dividing line between hippies and anybody else), but it was a Brooklyn crowd, and there was almost no overlap to my eyes with the Phishy-elements I detected at the show in January.

That show was in Manhattan, this one in Brooklyn, which perhaps is some factor, but I don't think so. I now think at the first show I was something of a hammer seeing only nails. More soon.

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