ANIMAL COLLECTIVE: LIVE AT 9:30 (2015)
1) Amanita; 2) Did You See The Words; 3) Honeycomb; 4) My Girls; 5) Moonjock; 6) New Town Burnout; 7) I Think I Can; 8) Pulleys; 9) What Would I Want?; 10) Peacebone; 11) Monkey Riches; 12) Brother Sport; 13) The Purple Bottle.
Technically, this is Animal Collective's third live album, but in a sense, it could just as well be the first, because Hollinndagain consisted exclusively of original material (and shit material at that), while the limited edition Animal Crack Box from 2009 was restricted to just a few vinyl copies. Continuing this trend, Live At 9:30 also comes specifically for collectors, pressed on six sides of bright-colored psychovinyl, but at least it is also distributed as digital files, making it more widely available — and it is also officially released on the band's main label (Domino), whereas Animal Crack Box was more of a homebrewn affair.
Anyway, the big question is: are these «post-fame» Animal Collective actually worthy of a live album, or is this just a quick (but colorful) money grab at the expense of collectors? Well, I am hardly the band's biggest fan, but my answer is a definitive yes to the first half of this question (although it is also a slightly more doubtful yes to the second half — I mean, high art and money-grabbing are not necessarily mutually exclusive, are they?). The thing is, once they get on stage, these guys do not care so much for an exact reproduction of the spritely pandemonium of their studio recordings as they do for creating spritely pandemonium, period. And the longer it lasts, the better — look at these track lengths: even though most of the songs are taken from officially released records, the collective runtime is almost twice as long as it takes to listen to the studio equivalents of the live record. Time stretches out to indefinite limits at Animal Collective shows, that one's for sure.
At this point, the band clearly refuses to rest upon past successes: the largest number of tracks come from the most recent Centipede Hz, with only two coming from Merryweather Post Pavilion (still arguably the centerpiece of the band's modern day legend) and the rest scattered evenly all the way up to Feels (but no earlier). However, track selection really does not matter that much, because when they're up on stage, Animal Collective present themselves as a «jam band», setting up one mind-boggling groove after another (and accompanying them with an equally mind-boggling light show that, unfortunately, stays out of the audio experience) and animating, aggrandizing and accelerating them to ecstatic heights. In this setting, anything can serve as a working theme, upon which they pile up their arrays of keyboard effects, tribal drum patterns, and vocal harmonies that ignite, shoot up, and burst apart like sets of fireworks.
The original compositions are not changed to the point of being unrecognizable — no, the melodies and even the arrangement details tend to be preserved, but the music gets longer expositions and the repetitive ritualistic grooves get to become truly gigantic (an extreme example is ʽPulleysʼ, stretched out almost Cream-style from an original three and a half minute length to about 15 minutes). If you put all six sides of vinyl together, there are definite signs of overkill; but if you take it slow, about half an hour at a time, for instance, the result is a strong psychedelic punch that really sounds like nothing else. This is not «electronica» with its formulaic rigidity: these are your past-and-future-merging 21st century SMiLing Beach Boys, where vocals matter as much as instruments (sometimes more) and electronic sound production is no more distant and alienating to the mind as, say, any special production effects on Sgt. Pepper.
The usual complaint is that behind all the kaleidoscopic richness of this approach lies a certain monotonousness — that the entire 2-hour long show is just one huge celebration of an alternate psychedelic reality, populated with bizarre, but generally friendly alternate lifeforms that seem, however, all to belong to the same infraclass: not just an «Animal Collective», that is, but rather a «Psychomarsupial Community» or something like that, where each member is slightly different but common enough so that eventually you just get lost in the all-too-similar diversity. With emphasis on the «jam» parts, this inevitably downplays the memorable main themes of the tunes and concentrates on the vibe, and the vibe is pretty much the same throughout. If they happened to have their own idiosyncratic equivalent of a ʽMidnight Ramblerʼ or at least a ʽWillie The Pimpʼ on here for diversity's sake, their status would have seriously increased at least in this reviewer's eyes — then again, they probably know better than to sacrilegiously break up the spiritual ritual and annihilate the mesmerizing effect on the audience, so forget it.
In any case, kudos to what it is they actually manage to do on stage — it's one thing to generate all these multi-layered arrangements in the cozy spacetime of the recording studio, and quite another one to generate all the layers simultaneously in a live environment: with a little help from the same digital technologies, no doubt, but the singing (with all those intertwining harmonies), the drumming, and much of the keyboard work are really live, and display consummate professionalism (to be expected, perhaps, after 15 years of gelling together, but nonetheless amazing). Love 'em or hate 'em, they are pretty much one of the most obvious symbols of innovative musical culture in our little «impoverished through too much enrichment» 21st century, so a guaranteed thumbs up here in any situation.