Animal Collective

New York’s beloved annual River to River festival kicked off last Friday with my dream line-up, Animal Collective and Danielson. Now, I have long been ambivalent about free shows. While they’re great in theory, in practice they’re hot and packed and attract pretty much the strangest, most obnoxious crowds of all time. This audience was no different, packed with ironically-clad hipsters (apparently fanny packs are the new black) and obnoxious, underaged kids from Long Island and New Jersey. As I staked out my spot, I heard one such group of teenagers discuss how “sweet” it’s going to be when Die Hard 4 comes out this summer, loudly strategize about the best way to buy beer with “fakes,” and just generally overuse the word “fuck.”

Thankfully, it was well worth the wait. Danielson, whose album Ships (Secretly Canadian) was one of my favorites of 2006, did a great set, full of characteristic Smith family good-natured dorkiness. Their performance drew from every era of their career, from folksy, upbeat “Rubber-Necker” and “Idiot Box” off of Tri-Danielson!!! (Tooth & Nail, 1998), part of the “Danielson Famile” era, to the Ships’ transcendent “Did I Step on Your Trumpet?” Even the aforementioned nightmare audience couldn’t ruin the positive energy that pervaded the set, despite trying their damnedest to do so. When Daniel Smith announced that the next song was called “Five Stars and Two Thumbs Up,” adding, adorably, “because that’s how we feel about you,” a kid next to me shouted, “I give you two-and-a-half stars on a good day!” Hardy har har. I guess just about every music critic in the country was wrong to sing the praises of Ships, then, huh? I was reminded of something Anton Newcombe screamed at a heckler during a disastrous Brian Jonestown Massacre show a few years back: “Why don’t you go smoke some crack and do something with your life?”

Animal Collective shut the crowd up (well, for the most part) with over 90 minutes of experimental, psychedelic goodness. Though space was tight, and my feet started to hurt from standing on the dock for so long, I was compelled to stay for the entire show. Each song merged with the next, with improvisation playing a large part. At some moments airy and diffuse, and at others intense and revelatory, the set felt complete and satisfying. The performance coincided with sunset over the water, and while New York’s aren’t great, as sunsets go, it was a fitting backdrop. It was exciting to see Panda Bear, Avey Tare, and Geologist (Deakin wasn’t in attendance) be so creative and energetic. It’s hard to understand how truly unique and experimental Animal Collective is until you see them live. I can’t wait for Panda Bear’s concert at Bowery Ballroom later this month!

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