Maturity: It happens to even the best of bands. And it can be what separates the good from the great. If a band known for starting out as a radical, energetic force can evolve into an act just as thrilling yet more technically competent, an impressive feat has been achieved. That kind of maturation is exactly what Animal Collective has gone through, and it was on display in Los Angeles on September 18. Animal Collective has always been an exciting stage presence; now the band is a nearly flawless one as well.
The same can’t be said for the evening’s two opening acts. Eric Copeland of Black Dice put in a solo set of music from his album, Hermaphrodite, and it was nowhere near as riveting as similar gigs put in by Animal Collective’s Panda Bear earlier this year in support of his own solo outing, the revelatory Person Pitch. Panda and Animal Collective get knocked by some for doing nothing more than mere knob twiddling, which was definitely all Copeland was doing, and the results were uninteresting. Some claim Animal Collective’s schtick is too childish; if that’s so, than the silly sorcery schlock of Wizard Prison, the second act, is downright infantile.
After those acts, the members of Animal Collective came off looking even more like elder statesmen. Once the trio of Panda, Avey Tare, and Geologist (Deakin isn’t presently touring with the band) got started, they never really stopped. Songs seamlessly blended into each other, which provided both performers and audience a strenuous workout.
The line on Animal Collective’s live shows for years has been that the band uses them completely to test out new songs. It’s nice to see that Animal Collective isn’t entirely sticking to that ethos anymore, but I still wonder why the band doesn’t play more familiar tunes. With how much “Peacebone” got the crowd rocking, you would think the musicians would want to chase that feeling. (Other tunes the band played off Strawberry Jam included “Fireworks” and “Unsolved Mysteries.”) But like Dinosaur Jr., another band that’s great on record and album, all of Animal Collective’s songs are stellar even if they don’t vary that much. So new or newer than new, everything the band did was a winner on this night.