In 2009, Josh Dibb, who performs in the experimental noise-pop band Animal Collective as Deakin, set up a Kickstarter campaign to fund a trip to Mali. He’d been invited to perform at the famous Festival au Désert and wanted to simultaneously work with Malian anti-human-trafficking groups. He promised fans photos, field recordings or a book if they donated, and he raised more than $25,000.
If one looks at the top comments on his Kickstarter campaign site today, however, it’s full of fans complaining that they have never received anything for their money. “I backed this as a gift to my boyfriend… good thing we’re still dating since 2009!” one wrote.
A promise of shared adventure gone unfulfilled? A noble cause sidetracked by lollygagging? One could say the same about Animal Collective’s Sunday night show at the Hollywood Bowl, which was supposed to be a crowning event for an ambitious, unexpectedly popular artist. But Animal Collective’s not a crowd-pleaser by nature, and at the Bowl -- part of KCRW-FM’s World Festival with the Tuvan singing group Huun Huur Tu and the L.A. producer Flying Lotus -- they might have promised more of a spectacle than they were truly interested in delivering.
The quartet has become an unlikely amphitheater act after years of kicking around the Baltimore and New York noise underground. A favorite of the kingmaking music site Pitchfork, the group came into international prominence with 2009’s “Merriweather Post Pavilion,” where the band's members traded their call-and-response moans and guitar wonkery for candy-necklace synthesizers and a lean toward pop songwriting. It was still weird, but it worked, and they followed a similar path on this year’s “Centipede Hz.”
But their Sunday show sabotaged that pop potential with layers of sonic and visual obscurity.
The Bowl’s stage was set up to suggest that the quartet (whose members take the aliases of Avey Tare, Panda Bear, Geologist and Deakin) was hiding in the mandibles of a cartoon beast, with giant teeth and inflatable claws dominating the stage. Whimsical and witty, sure; but not enough to compensate for the fact that the band's members barely moved from their dark crevasse at the back. Whether that’s because their new material is technically demanding, or they’re just taking a reserved tack on shows these days, the reticence made them feel far too distant.
That the band’s music is so vague didn’t help. On record, Animal Collective makes powerful use of drone, repetition, sampling and foggy vocal harmonies. But without the precision of a studio, the detail all came out in the wash onstage. Some tunes, such as “Wide Eyed” and fan favorite “My Girls,” cut through the clutter with stronger singing and more attention to songcraft. But the better part of the show oscillated between indeterminate jamming, computer-chip noise loops and mocking abrasions such as “Peacebone.”
“How many of you were here when the Beatles played?” Tare asked the crowd, referring to the Fab Four’s famous mid-'60s Bowl sets. It’s hard to say whether Tare was just yanking fans’ chains or sincerely overwhelmed by the enormity and history of the venue. But if anyone there Sunday did catch those Beatles shows in their younger years, they could have given Animal Collective some advice on how to be a weird band that still connects with a full Bowl crowd.
Flying Lotus’ opening set, by contrast, achieved almost everything Animal Collective fell short on. Though his jazz-derived electronica is just as fussy and psychedelic, Lotus performs with such palpable joy and skill that he makes whacking at a laptop feel like a ritual rite. Slivers from his new album, “Until the Quiet Comes,” suggested that it’s going to be a breakthrough; more refined and focused than anything in his long catalog yet. He’s not taking donations, but plenty of fans were ready to pony up right then.