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Animal Charm

Animal Collective @ Concorde 2, 15 Jan

It’s a cold, windy January night and the approach to Concorde 2 is scattered with small clusters of punters, wrapped up tightly in hoods and scarves, anxiously asking passers-by if they have any spare tickets for tonight’s sold-out show: a cheerless and futile undertaking. I too am ticketless, but walk past the shadowy figures and through the doors of the venue, smug in the knowledge that, unlike those huddled outside, my name is on the guest list.

Except it’s not.

I try to explain that there must be some mistake; that I had been assured I would be on the list; and that if I could just get onto the internet I could find the email verifying all of this. But there’s only so much grovelling a man can do. Back outside in the cold and I can hear the support band starting up: I’m feeling rather less smug. But desperate times call for desperate measures and I reckon I’ve got one more shot at getting in. So I run back along the seafront into town in the hope of finding an internet cafe. Quite a few are closed, but at last I find one – King of GSM, you’re my saviour! – log onto the internet and print off the precious email. I hurry back to Concorde 2 (rather out of breath at this point), thrust the email emphatically into the bouncers’ hands and, with the help of a little more shameless grovelling, finally manage to get myself inside, just as Animal Collective are taking to the stage. Phew!

‘Animal Collective induce an overwhelming, trance like state of profound appreciation in the crowd’

What exactly am I getting at with this rather rambling introduction, you ask? Well, firstly, if you were hoping to find a perceptive and informative description of support act, Highlife, then it should by now have become obvious that you’ve come to the wrong place: I missed them entirely. And secondly – and far more importantly– I hope that there is now not the slightest hint of a doubt in your mind about just how desperately I wanted to go to this gig: you see, Animal Collective are a band just too good to miss.

The Baltimore three-piece (fourth member, Deakin, has taken a break from the band and is absent tonight) do not disappoint. Although they play a largely unfamiliar set – most songs are drawn from their new album, Merriweather Post Pavilion, with only one track from Strawberry Jam and none at all from Feels – the sheer energy and effervescence of their music is utterly captivating. As soon as the distinctive call-and-response vocal harmonies of ‘My Girls’ emerges out of the swirling synths and bleeps that the band have built up, a collective smile spreads across the crowd and remains there for the rest of the show.

Their set moves effortlessly between punchy, up-beat songs like ‘Summertime Clothes’ and ‘Brother Sport’, and spacey, slower burning affairs such as ‘Also Frightened’ which crescendoes beautifully in flittering bursts of electronic drums, splashes of strings, and soaring reverb-drenched vocals that acquire an almost choral dimension sung live.

Animal Collective are not the most exciting band to watch on stage, their performance consisting of a lot of head and shoulder bopping and some intense facial expressions. Indeed, it seems that they are aware of this and tonight they go all-out on the lightshow – as spectacular as it is distracting from the actual music – as if to compensate. In fact, the gig is best enjoyed with eyes closed, allowing the cascade of psychedelic sounds to wash over you and the bass and drums to reverberate somewhere deep inside your being. Some of the more raucous tracks get people dancing and jumping around, but for the most part the band induce an overwhelming, trance-like state of profound appreciation in the crowd.

Before we know it the band have left the stage and the lights are back on. They have already played their encore – a glorious extended rendition of ‘Leaf House’ – but much of the crowd stick around as if in a daze, not quite believing that it’s all over so quickly. But over it is. I make my way back outside to the bitter cold, but now with a warm glow spreading inside of me. It’s a strange feeling, and, much like the band itself, is difficult to define. It’s not happiness as such, nor excitement. Just a vague sense of contentment in the wake of experiencing something vital, something joyful.

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