Have you ever been experienced? The Roundhouse has. Hendrix and happenings, raves and nude theatrical revues – this building has seen it all. Not a bad afterlife for a former railway shed. In alighting here, Baltimore’s Animal Collective were continuing a grand psychedelic tradition. They turned on diverse digital gadgetry, retuned guitars and synths to alien frequencies, but somehow remained too fiercely studious to drop out completely.
After a decade in cult obscurity, their star has risen (deservedly) since their 2009 album Merriweather Post Pavilion, loosely glossed as Pet Sounds for the iPod age. Typically, the follow-up, Centipede Hz, is a knottier proposition: more angsty and conflicted, although not nearly as inaccessible as some suggest. The majority of this set was drawn from that record. It featured the most extraordinary sounds heard all year – mission accomplished, as the group compare their intent to extraterrestrials replicating pop picked up via radio signals lost in space.
Voluptuous bouts of noise – gloopy and squelching, then brutal and raw – were generated by the four-piece, who go by the cartoonish aliases Avey Tare, Panda Bear, Geologist and Deakin (otherwise Dave Portner, Noah Lennox, Brian Weitz and Josh Dibb). It’s commonplace to describe them as a jam band, but their playing seemed full of deliberation, anchored by Panda Bear’s furiously controlled drumming. His sugary vocals, and Avey Tare’s screamier variety, provided the melodic threads that guided us through the sonic melee. Inflatable teeth and gums hung from the lighting rig and at the sides of the stage; behind them were two cylindrical arches and a screen for blurry projections. They have to call the concert movie Bleep Throat.
“Rosie Oh” was a gurgling, amphibious crawl; “Today’s Supernatural” pounded like samba in a smelting factory; “Applesauce” overcooked its smearing of bass; and the didgeridoo-style whine of “Lion in a Coma” had an otherworldly bounce. “Brothersport”, with its 4/4 pulse, was the first proper hands-in-the-air moment; in the encore, “My Girls” was the anthem fans had been waiting for. Commendably, in many ways Animal Collective are neither fish nor fowl – too physical to be pure head music, too cerebral for uninhibited dance – and that meant their energy perhaps never fully transfused to the crowd.
Earlier, Avey Tare brought an Iggy-ish intensity to “Monkey Riches”. The crazy thought occurred: what if they had an actual frontman, standing at the front? Now that would be experimental for these guys.