As the three women in First Nation exchanged tiny, rueful smiles a week ago Tuesday at Avalon and began another terrible sub-folk song about the tall, tall grass or hiding under granny’s bed or whatever it is, it struck me: where are the flying bottles of piss? The catcalls? Where is the smoldering haze of herd antipathy rising like an odor from the crowd? Looking at the smooth, bright faces around me, I see nothing but a genial curiosity. The utter ineptitude of the band on stage, their hapless attempts at harmony and their all-thumbs guitar technique, is not a problem for these kids: in fact, they rather approve. The previous act called himself Barr. He rambled about going to see Modest Mouse over little lopsided snatches of drum machine. He too was applauded. Truly, in this post-nouveau-psych-bohemian world, anything goes. Here real feebleness gets the warm hand of welcome. Pick up your dusty xylophone, young man, and the poems you wrote when you were 10. Young woman, grab that toy drum. Your audience is waiting. Headliners Animal Collective, thank God, are pretty rocking. They may call each other Panda Bear and Geologist, but these boys can kick out the wibbly-wobbly jams. The new Feels (Fat Cat) — a slice of queasy, tinkling art pop in the Mercury Rev vein — affords no hint of the quite precisely engineered abandonment that AC achieve in performance. Feels is in there somewhere, in the traces of Brian Wilson melody that escape like steam from the general mangling and pressure, but AC live are a different beast. They’re very noisy, for a start. With phased electronic rumble coming from the big hairy dude at the sampler/mixer machine (Geologist, perhaps? He was wearing a headlamp . . . ) and pulsing trance sound from the guitars and the vocals ricocheting around in dubbed whoops and shrieks, it’s a proper rave-up, like watching Can enjoy themselves at some ’90s techno bash. And AC are enjoying themselves, nodding, swaying, dancing, taking vicious swats at the crash cymbal — a joyful unanimity. They’re not wearing their animal masks tonight. But they are doing what Marc Bolan called “The Woodland Bop” (“Once you start it you’ll find it hard to stop”), a sort of panicked pastoral. The drummer at his stand-up kit knocks out a rattling tick-tock backbeat and occasionally weighs in with a huge chanting noise. Deep in the telepathic flux there are rules — synchronized tempo collapses, massed shifts in key. I find myself wishing that AC would collaborate with the Chemical Brothers. But that might be too great a trespass into their private culture.
: Live Reviews
, Science and Technology, Brian Wilson, Modest Mouse, More