Did you see my menagerie?

I went to see Animal Collective on Friday. They're too big to play in Iowa City, and they sold out an all-ages show at the Picador - probably could have sold it out for twice what they charged for tickets. They left it all on the stage, then hung out after the show and talked to people. These are obviously some cool motherfuckers. They may, when all is said and done, constitute the apogee of compendious post-ironic hipsterdom.

Cuz I think Animal Collective is, in a way, the best band in the world. In a way, they're half-again as good as the next best band, Roger Federer style. Their highs are just so high. Their last two records, Sung Tongs and Feels, both start with untouchable one-two punches: "Leaf House" / "Who Could Win a Rabbit?" and "Did You See the Words?" / "Grass," respectively. Those four songs, they're better than any four songs anybody else has written in a decade. (I'll bring my gang, you bring your gang, and we'll dance in the streets with butterfly switchblades.) After the initial barages, both albums are mixed bags - the songs alternate, on basically a one-to-one ratio, between deadly boring and holy-fucking-shit-this-is-the-best-song-ever.

And they're a slam-bangerous live band, too. Their chemistry and charisma are peerless. They seem to be totally ego-free on stage, but they're all completely singular presences. Avey Tare pulsates and freaks out and spazz-dances to music of varying levels of undanceability. Panda Bear just stands there, very intense in a bookish way, sometimes wailing on that floor-tom he wails on that sounds better than any other floor-tom I've ever heard, looking a good deal more like a young Stephen Malkmus than I would've expected. Geologist does whatever he does, anchoring things with his samplers and boards, waving his headlamp around. It's an impressive display. I couldn't see a lick of it, because the mean height of the audience was 6'3".

(You know how some crowds are good crowds, and some crowds are bad crowds, and the only way to describe it is in terms of something nebulous like vibe? This crowd had the worst vibe ever. Bad voodoo, man. Steve gives a very good account of it here.)

I was worried that it would be a really, really, really disappointing show. So I did some research. I hunted around on Youtube and found the stuff they've been playing in Europe lately. Songs from their new album, like "For Reverend Green" and "Cuckoo Cuckoo." And then I got excited, because this stuff is SO FUCKING AWESOME. They're the big fractured epics that Animal Collective does so well, like "Banshee Beat" and "Purple Bottle," with sex-underwater guitars and seizure-heartbeat drums.

So I expected it to be a disappointing show. Then, I thought it would be awesome. It was like expecting a gutpunch, then unflexing your abs and breathing a sigh of relief, and moments later, catching a whistling-fast kickball in the solar plexus.

They didn't bring Deakin, their guitar player. They didn't bring a guitar. NOBODY BOTHERED TO PLAY A GUITAR. The best guitar pop band in the world left their sixstrings in Brooklyn.

I can respect that they feel like being a guitar pop band is too small, too insignificant a way to define yourself. Like they have more to give. Like guitar pop lacks gravitas, like it's not something that they can throw themselves into with all the elan they can muster.

Further, I recognize that I'm one of "those fans" - the kind of fan a band hates - the kind that tries to cattleprod them back into the middle of the (main)stream and play rock song singalongs, the songs I can wave a beer bottle to. The kind of fan that yells "Born to Run!" at a Springsteen concert. The kind of fan that complains that Radiohead doesn't sound enough like U2 anymore. The kind of fan that tries to hem in musicians, to make them feel claustrophobic and stalked by the past a la the archetypal high-school football star gone sour and bald and fat and three-kidded, who still goes out to get trashed and throw the ball around with his old teammates every weekend. The kind of fan that wants Animal Collective to be the indie-rock 3 Dog Night, in itinerant arrested development, swooping from festival to festival to play the old hits without letting the new stuff get in the way. The kind of fan who takes the phrase "this is a new one" as an opportunity to hit the bar and the bathroom, or even just get his thoughts in order. Outside.

And I'm sorry for it.

I understand that fans like me are the enemy, and I respect the urge to follow the academic micro-Afro-Eno-Neubaten-LaurieAnderson bell curve, grinding out plinks and squeeks and bleeps and blips and whispers and roars and skitters and saw wave shrapnel. It's commendable, I think, to try to push music as far as you can, even if what you end up with isn't terribly musical. This is what the beer halls of North American college towns are for - white guys making art-trash sounds that verge between beautiful and unlistenable. And Animal Collective, you are a very decent noise act. An exemplary noise act, really. When you did those tribal stomp versions of "Hey Light" and "We Tigers" and "Rabbit" and "Leaf House," I had a big fucking smile across my face. And I was occasionally soothed or amped by what you did in between. If I didn't know you, I might have been won over.

But lest we forget, YOU'RE THE FUCKING BEST GUITAR POP BAND IN THE WORLD. It's not just for me that I'm frustrated here. It's for both of us. Because if you ask me if your ass looks fat, I might tell you that your ass looks fine. But I can promise you, I don't want you walking around in pants that make your ass look fat. Not any more than you do. For both of us.

Animal Collective, on this tour, your ass looks ehhhhhh...ok. But you have a FANTASTIC ass. And you're selling yourself way, way, way short. What are those, Route 66s? Wranglers?! Get thee to a boutique!

Play thee "Did You See the Words?"!

Turn into something! DON'T turn into something!

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