On Thursday evening the great and the good of the UK music industry descended on this small corner of Camden for a quintessentially British affair, the Mercury Prize. Well tonight the scene couldn’t be more different as the same venue hosts an East Coast psychedelic takeover courtesy of the ever-experimental Animal Collective. Boffin-chic indie, this is not.
The night opens with Prince Rama the brainchild of Brooklyn sisters Taraka and Nimai Larsonx. Signed to Animal Collective’s own label their hallucinatory drama school theatrics and mystical genre mash-ups result in a deranged amalgam that is a fair indication of the distorted synesthesia expected to follow.
A half empty hall quickly fills as the house lights dim to mark the arrival of the main event. Back as a four piece and premiering their first full studio album since 2009’s acclaimed ‘Merriweather Post Pavilion’, it’s clear Animal Collective are raising the stakes on this tour. This is confirmed by the impressive stage decoration. The band is surrounded by giant inflatables forming a surreal toothy mouth, which is in turn bathed in retro animated and live action projections. The outcome is a colourful and hypnotic visual that suitably compliments the demented fairground ride melody of opener ‘Rosie Oh’.
As the band race through their opening few songs, the cohesiveness of it all is immediately striking. Within three songs we have been treated to the vocal talents of three quarters of the band with Lennox, Portner and Dibb all taking centre stage. Equally the transition from song to song with barely a break in sound provides a momentum and intensity that is both absorbing and inspiring.
But alas, something seems to be missing. Playing almost the whole new album in its entirety leaves the atmosphere somewhat flat. A noticeable cheer rises when six tracks in we are offered our first taste of known material in the form Merriweather’s ‘Lion in a Coma’. The cheer is perhaps born from relief, as this crowd appears to have invested less time in the new material than is necessary to get maximum enjoyment from the show. This is a shame because the new work merits better than being played to an obviously hit-hungry audience. The epic ‘New Town Burnout’ segueing seamlessly into the Super Furry-esque mayhem of ‘Monkey Riches’, a notable high point.
Inevitably the crowd eventually gets its wish with the closing numbers ‘Brother Sport’ and ‘Peacebone’. It may have taken over 45 minutes to arrive but the party finally lands and the turnaround is immediate. The venue bursts into life as a few thousand rapturously pogo their way through the songs they clearly came to hear. And they are not disappointed by the encore either with firm favourite ‘My Girls’ achieving the rousing high water mark expected from this eagerly anticipated appearance.
By the time the band leave us with the final chords of the awesome ‘Amanita‘ ringing in our ears the overriding feeling is that they have won the day… but only just.
In a week that has brought the future of the album back to the front of the musical agenda Animal Collective have nailed their flag to the mast on the side of the in-threat medium with their approach to this tour. For all of their famed musical discordance, tonight they have proven they remain dedicated to the musical storytelling of the album format and are willing to live with the difficulties that can bring in a changing musical landscape. For their sake, hopefully next time their audience will have found their way onto the journey too.
Words by Chris Wash
Photos by Matt Wash