Given the huge press attention around the release of Animal Collective's eighth album (quiet January? Domino spending their Arctic Monkeys earnings on PR?) it might appear a no-brainer that tonight's Manchester gig sold out weeks ago. But in the current economic climate and with the live music market possibly reaching saturation point, nothing is certain and all credit to Pineapple Folk and Hey! Manchester for putting on this event.
I missed support Highlife and arrived at 9.15pm to find the band taking to the stage. Tonight it was the three-man line up: Avey Tare, Panda Bear and Geologist (if you want an AC history there is a convoluted one here or a more straightforward one here). On record AC mix pulsating tribal rhythms, shimmering synths and glorious harmonies to magical, and at times euphoric, effect. The new album Merriweather Post Pavillion is no exception, if anything more blissfully transcedent than some of the earlier experimentation and pure noise. But live?
Well pretty similar really. Ambient passages introduce and link songs, snippets of older songs are spliced together and whilst not the most animated performers the spirit of the records is captured well via banks of electronics, samplers, synths etc overlaid with guitar and some live percussion. No camera with me tonight but there are some photos of the London gig here - but they make it appear much more soulless than it was on the night in Manchester.
But what stood out for me to my surprise was the vocals - what I thought was the element that relied most on the studio. Live the pulsating rhythms were not to the forefront: what gave the songs life or carried the rhythm was the higher register harmonies of Panda Bear or the more squawky mid-range of Avey Tare. So the highpoints were when the two were singing/chanting together; and when this was met with recognition or reaction from the packed crowd, that's when it all came together. When this didn't happen, things could drag a little. So overall good but not great with occasional joyous moments ('My Girls' and 'Lion in a Coma').
And despite the seemingly universal praise for Merriweather Post Pavillion it's good to find some nay-sayers: I played 'My Girls' to Daughter 2.0 before leaving home tonight, thinking surely the harmonies AND the lyrical content were a winning combination. It got an instant thumbs-down. (I'll keep working on her though - she just needs a bit more time to appreciate avant-noise-psyche-folk-pop fully).