Animal Collective Attempts to Give Miami a Surreal Break From a Surreal Reality

Last night's Animal Collective concert at the Fillmore Miami Beach was a mixture of anticipation, expectations, surprises, and ultimately, jarring reality. The show was a series of bizarre ups and downs that mirrored the world outside, but at the very least provided an escape, if only for a short while.

Look, it’s been a shit week. Less than 48 hours after this country elected a bloated bag of rotting garbage and visceral hatred as our next president, the hope was that Animal Collective could provide some respite. That was no easy task, especially considering this was the same evening that Miami’s beloved Dwyane Wade returned to his home of 13 years wearing an opposing team’s jersey. Oh, also one music’s greatest songwriters, Leonard Cohen, passed away.

Again, shit week.

Still, the audience’s eagerness jumped into gear a few minutes after 8:30 p.m. when the lights dimmed and a thundering soundtrack thumped through the room. It was a lounge mix that played for about half an hour or so before suddenly cutting out. Then the house lights came back on. It was a baffling anticlimax. The modestly-sized crowd had to wait another forty-five minutes before the veteran indie rock quartet took the stage. 
And when they finally did, the band wasn't exactly the center of attention. What made the strongest impression upon their arrival was the backdrop. It was a Picasso-inspired collection of drawings populated by geometric shapes and floating eyes. A projector that towered over the crowd flooded the band and their personal “Guernica” with a psychedelic kaleidoscope of mind-melting colors and images. It fell somewhere between pop art and an acid trip, like an installation at a museum of modern art located on the edge of the universe.

As for the music, the four-piece consisting of Avey Tare, Deakin, Geologist, and Panda Bear went weird early and hard. It was a collection of musical Dr. Frankensteins who chopped up different sounds and reassembled them into a lumbering monster of strangely interesting “songs.” These experimental head trips transported the crowd away from the nightmare awaiting them back in reality. Well, mostly.

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Animal Collective’s new album is titled Painting With and this concert was indeed like a surreal work of art brought to life. That being said, it wasn’t necessarily to everyone’s taste. A few people walked out of this oily prism of colors, clanging bells, and whistles. And it was understandable. Some of the songs — and it wasn’t always easy to distinguish when one ended and another began — lasted longer than necessary. More than once things got boring; the crowd became listless, the expressions on their faces reading: just get on with it. At times, Animal Collective became engaged in a sort of musical mental masturbation. Which, for hardcore fans, was no doubt a pleasant treat. But it proved to be an acquired taste. 
Nonetheless, when the band did hit its stride, it was something transcendent. The early part of the show was Animal Collective at its most experimental. For example, the opening number was a 15-minute journey of clapping percussion, swirling synths, and movie sound effects. Like so many of their songs, it was abstract enough to be whatever the listener/viewer wanted it to be. Later, there was a tribal jam featuring grunts, shouts, and different sorts of manifestations of emphatic, raw emotion. A giant bonfire to dance around wouldn’t have been out of place.

Frontman and lead vocalist Avery Tare (David Portner), only addressed the audience a handful of times, but at one point told us that there were two things on his mind, “love and family,” before launching into an electronic punk rock version of “Jimmy Mack” by Martha and the Vandellas. Middle-aged men swayed with their arms in the air, girls danced barefoot, and a tall drink of water in a Tigger hat bounced up and down the stairs in the seated section, all without a care in the world.

By the closing number, “FloriDada,” a quirky and fairly straight forward dance rock tune, the pervading thought was that although the show wasn’t perfect, much like this nation, there was plenty to admire and things would be okay.

That is until just outside the Fillmore, about a block down the street, a white man hanging out of a party bus shouted at one woman to “take her pants off” and “show us your dick,” and called a man in front of her a “retarded Jeb Bush” and a “fucking faggot.”

It was an unwelcome jolt back into the bitterly divided reality we now call home. Just like that, we longed to be blanketed once more by the bizarre, but comforting noise pop of Animal Collective and, really, anything else that could help us get away from all the madness.

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