On a brisk New York City night, sheltered from the busy pedestrian and tourist traffic of Times Square in New York City, Animal Collective took a trip back to their roots and played a stripped-down version of their 2004 hallmark album, Sung Tongs, at the Town Hall. Animal Collective, which consists of Avey Tare (David Portner), Panda Bear (Noah Lennox), Geologist (Brian Weitz), and Deakin (Josh Dibb), are a famous experimental pop group well known for their two seminal albums Strawberry Jam (2007) and Merriweather Post Pavilion (2009), though labeling the group “experimental pop” does not do them justice. Animal Collective has an emotional, explorative, and atmospheric musical style that combines with genuinely profound and poetic lyricism to truly set them apart. It is their genuine uniqueness which adds to the profound connection many fans have to this band. The band utilizes repetition of chords and phrases which fill the room with atmospheric emotion, upon which they gradually build distinct voicings and layers onto. Hits of theirs such as “Fireworks,” “My Girls,” and “Into the Flowers” highlight this unique style. Speaking about the latter song with a fellow fan, he told me that he had previously burst into tears at a 2009 concert during the emotional line “If I could only leave my body for the night,” right at the drop of “Into the Flowers.”
It is clear that Animal Collective’s music has had a strong emotional impact on those who have lived through the 2000s and experienced their music, and it was a pleasure to be taken on a trip back to their acoustic origins through their performance of Sung Tongs. Avey Tare and Panda Bear, the only two members of Animal Collective who wrote Sung Tongs, sat before the crowd with only acoustic guitars and a single snare drum, which added to the intimate and stripped-down nature of the show. The crowded yet small opera hall laid out in front of them was filled with people you would not expect, at a setting where one would anticipate an opera or orchestra, all attendees having come together to witness deeply personal art.
Sung Tongs was one of the first albums to garner Animal Collective widespread acclaim and attention back in 2004. This tour, where the duo played the album from beginning to end with no breaks in between, was launched after the success of their performance of the album during Pitchfork’s 21st anniversary concert last December. Watching the performance felt like watching two brothers who had come together to express every emotion they had through music. Throughout the show they would harmonize while they strummed their guitars, bump their feet, hit the snare, and each made some beautifully weird exclamations and faces. Specifically, Avey Tare was the expert at the screams, and Panda Bear the expert at emotive high notes and yelps.
The mood of the room would constantly shift as they played nonstop through the journey of Sung Tongs. As smoke would rise above the duo, they would fixate on one chord for minutes on end, the mood tranquil and meditative. Without warning, Animal Collective would slowly add a harmonized melody on top of the foundation of their song while they stomped their feet on the ground repeatedly. These dramatic shifts, which Animal Collective utilized in Strawberry Jam and Merriweather Post Pavilion, caused the crowd to erupt in roars, giving standing ovations in between songs even as the duo would continue to play the next track in the album.
Besides their standout “The Softest Voice,” a clear crowd favorite was Animal Collective’s song “College;; a one minute harmonic masterpiece ending with Avey Tare and Panda Bear singing “You don’t ha-ve to gooo to coll-ege!” Everyone in the crowd, especially the college age kids, roared at this one. According to an interview with Avey Tare, this song had quite the impact upon release in 2004, as Animal Collective would receive many emails from kids asking the band for college advice. As far as other standouts, the album works so well as a whole with each song blending into the next, that there were no true standout hits like one would expect at a concert featuring a band who has spawned many hits. What truly stood out was the concert album experience as a whole. As the album came to a close after over an hour of playing, it felt as though the audience left New York’s Town Hall having just shared a uniquely warm, wholesome and intimate experience with Animal Collective.
Photos and article by Yoni Gottlieb, find him on Instagram.