Coachella 2011: Animal Collective weirds out the teletransported aliens from Mars -- and Burning Man scribe Brian Doherty

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At Animal Collective’s set Saturday night, a man stood next to me in a vest, tie and sports coat, not the usual Coachella get-up. He turned to me with a question.

‘If we teletransported someone from 50 years ago to this moment now, would that person think we’ve gone insane, based on this show?’


We both agreed: Yes.

For the last 20 minutes, Animal Collective had been assailing the crowd with video footage from fellow experimental noisemakers Black Dice. Three giant cubes hovered over the band, slaves to a sequence of color-saturated imagery that veered from pixels soaked in LSD to nature imagery soaked in LSD to some rippling coil shape that might’ve been your colon on LSD. The two screens on either side of the band projected the same. It was basically meant to melt your mind.

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Musically, the mission was the same. Animal Collective does have actual songs with beginnings, middles and ends, but you wouldn’t have known it from Saturday night. Verse-chorus-verse sticklers were out of luck. Then again, you don’t see Animal Collective with the hope that it’ll cover a Mumford and Sons song.

Sometimes a song would start, only to transport into the next by way of burbling passage, as if being ferried from one stalagmited cave to another.

‘Didn’t these guys used to do stuff with their voices that was, um, pretty?’

It was the businessman with another good question. His name, by the way, is Brian Doherty, a journalist who wrote ‘This Is Burning Man,’ a definitive guide to Coachella’s wayward Nevada sister, an anarchic festival that makes Coachella look like something conceived by Barbara Bush. He also writes essays on politics as the senior editor at Reason magazine.

Doherty knows his festivals, and has been to Coachella several times since its start. For fun, he works on the Tesla coil at the festival every year, operated by his friend Syd Klinge. ‘Last night, we blew up a capacitator by accident,’ Doherty said. ‘Literally, it exploded.’

Doherty, Klinge and the rest of the Coil crew stay in an offsite area where all the crew members for the various contraptions stay, partying with each other late into the night.

Occasionally, Animal Collective did burst into the kind of vocal harmonies that earned it comparisons to the Beach Boys, if the Wilsons had been reared by a pack of wolves. After the video screen barfed up more supervivid imagery cut with the words ‘IRRESISTIBLE POWER,’ the group led into the most clear-cut song of the night. ‘Summertime Clothes,’ a sweat-covered tale of wandering New York -- probably on drugs. The marbled, bright synth layers hit the audience like glare on a windshield; the harmonies shadowy and sunlit at the same time.

Earlier in the day, I had been bemoaning, though only to myself, the lack of weirdos at this year’s Coachella, the kind of performers who, once they arrive and claim their contorted stake on reality, you wonder how you didn’t see it before. Call it the Die Antwoord effect.

‘We came to bring the weird a little bit,’ Avey Tare said at one point in the set. ‘And to have fun.’ Done and done, Animal Collective. If you can entertain and weird out the guy who knows Burning Man inside and out, you’ve successfully planted your freak flag.


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-- Margaret Wappler

Animal Collective performs at the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival at the Empire Polo Grounds in Indio on Saturday. Credit: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times