With the election now over and the president-elect getting prepped to take office, many of us are winding down from a binge of worrying about the country’s future. It is safe to say that we could all use a break from the political world in the form of an audiovisual escape. The past weekend at Republic NOLA and Civic Theatre provided just the distraction everyone needed. Two groups from up north came to town, both known for their nature of questioning reality and their grand performances.
Yeasayer is from Brooklyn, New York, and have been around since 2006 with four albums to date. Their sound is hard to describe because it draws influence from multiple regions and spirituailties. The music isn’t necessarily religious, but guitar player/singer/songwriter Anand Wilder explained once in an interview that keeping an open mind about spirituality is very beneficial in the sense of having more places to find inspiration. Yeasayer makes an effort to go in new directions with each of their albums, but their style can be described as a worldly indie/pop recording with an abundance of exotic instruments.
They played at Republic NOLA with Lydia Ainsworth from Toronto, Canada, on their tour to promote a fourth studio album, Amen & Goodbye. On stage with Yeasayer were a cast of life-size cut-out figures depicting random things such as Mark Twain or a baby wearing a pineapple on his head. These character props all contained LED lights which provided stimulating imagery for the music. Their setlist included tracks from their new album, but also older hits including “2080,” a song that singer/songwriter Chris Keating described as being an appropriate tune for their post-election depression. The first line is, “I can’t sleep when I think about the times we’re living in,” which Keating found to have a renewed meaning. Apart from some venting about the political state of our country, Yeasayer put on an epic show full of crowd involvement and group chanting. They encored with “Half Asleep” and “Wait for the Summer.”
Animal Collective is an avant-garde pop band from Baltimore, Maryland, and they have been together officially as Animal Collective since 2003. This unusual group is made up of four members who all have their own stage names and established solo works. The members are Dave Portner (Avey Tare), Noah Lennox (Panda Bear), Brian Weitz (Geologist), and Josh Dibb (Deakin). Though Dibb and Lennox met in the second grade, all four of them became friends in high school, where their schools focused on creativity and self-expression. During these years they experimented with psychoactive drugs and improvised music, which led to the beginnings of Animal Collective as a band. Their musical style involves instrumentation that is made up entirely of synthesizers, sequencers, samplers and drum machines. Their sound is very experimental pop, sometimes not even resembling traditional song structure. Yet they are also known for their boyish harmonies that are profoundly reminiscent of the Beach Boys.
A mysterious DJ called Actress opened the evening at the Civic for Animal Collective with an ambient/hip-hop set in the form of one fluid track. Actress was very understated as he played almost entirely in the dark with no acknowledgment of the crowd. Animal Collective’s set, though, was far from subtle. Deakin, who has been playing live with AC on and off and was not present for this tour, was replaced with touring drummer Jeremy Hyman. Avey Tare, Geologist and Panda Bear all played behind their tables of electronic instruments. Each member had a surreal painting in front of him, as well as a giant painting behind the band. These canvases were colored in such a way that they reflected images from a massive projector very effectively, making them appear to be giant monitors with constant visuals. All this was accompanied by hanging ornaments and large cubist-looking busts with inner LED lights.
Animal Collective’s music was so much more powerful and thunderous live that it was almost a totally different experience to witness. Lennox and Portner have mastered the ability to manually pan their voices, alternating on notes and syllables. In addition to their angelic harmonies, this live panning creates a truly unique and impressive way of performing vocal melodies. It is easy to get lost in their soundscapes as they also tend to improvise sections of songs to extend and renew them. Animal Collective’s setlist was mostly songs from their new album, Painting With. However, they did throw in a few oldies, including a song they hadn’t played on tour in 15 years called “Pride and Fight,” which was another response to a politically-weary country.
The whole show was like a Dali painting, surreal and full of intimate details to experience. The plethora of colors and textures played so well with the white walls of the Civic, and reflected back on the packed crowd. After AC’s initial set, the audience literally shook the floor with the demand for their return. They closed the night with “Bees,” “Recycling,” and “Kids on Holiday.”