Animal Collective Closes Out Pitchfork Day One

[Photo Credit: Laura Brown]

On Friday, the first day of the annual Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago’s Union Park, both the lighter-than-usual crowd and the weather, cooler than usual, made for a nice day and night of music. Both those factors are expected to change, as the heat moves in and the lineups get more attractive for fans of indie rock, hip-hop, and electronic music.

As evening fell in the park, on the red stage Neko Case, who has deep roots in Chicago and was joined onstage by local darling Kelly Hogan, fought for sound dominance with UK newcomer James Blake on the blue stage. Standing in line for beer, equidistant from the two stages, it seemed, surprisingly, Neko was winning.

While James Blake‘s U.S. debut at SxSW earlier this year went over well, he opted for a series of increasingly sparse and beat-starved songs on Friday, before breaking out “CMYK,” the dubstep tune that brought him early acclaim. I assume he would have played “Limit To Your Love” and “The Wilhelm Scream” next, but I moved over to the main stage to get in position for Animal Collective. (But was that Four Tet’s Kieran Hebden standing backstage for Blake’s set?)

Animal Collective at Pitchfork – sounds like a match made in heaven. Judging by the crowd’s décollage of polite society fashion – cut-off shirts, face paint – they were here for the Maryland co-op too.

The band of brothers – once three, now four again – Dave Porter, Noah Lennox, Brian Weitz, and Josh Dibbs waited nervously in the wings while crew members hurried around the group’s visual statement, a stage that looked like what might have resulted if a particularly whimsical high school Stage Props class was freed of all limitations.

As is their practice, Animal Collective is mostly using this summer’s tour to flesh out new songs for a forthcoming record, and decidedly not to showcase the undeniable weird pop anthems from 2009’s Merriweather Post Pavilion.

While the new songs may turn into the pop gems of Merriweather under the band’s and a producer’s careful study in the studio, right now they are predominantly defined by a loose mix of squirrelly electronics, amorphous water sounds, Porter’s yelp, and Lennox’s driving, downbeat-centered drumming. And, for better or worse, fans responded with a resounding “meh.”

There was the mid-set highlight of “Brother Sport” as well as “Taste,” both from Merriweather. But the moment the crowd truly fulfilled its dream to become one giant, undulating psychedelic blob came when the band launched into “Summertime Clothes,” an ecstatic dance number that seemed to uncork the energy of the summer night.

“Hope you guys have a sweet day,” Porter said in farewell.


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