Live at 9:30 by Animal Collective (2015)

Animal Collective are capable of creating music that can be as fun and captivating as anything else out there, but they can also leave you feeling a little frustrated. The loose four-piece from Baltimore, Maryland in the U.S. have always been a band that likes to experiment, producing music that they personally enjoy above all else. Their early material, consisting of four studio albums and a live recording between 2000-03, featured of a blend of folk, noise, drone, ambient, tribal and psychedelia. Some of it was sweet and melodic, while other parts were more abrasive and challenging. It was on 2004’s Sung Tongs, a stripped back experimental folk album packed with melody and harmony, that things really started to click.

They followed this up with 2005’s Feels and 2007’s Strawberry Jam, both critical successes and albums bursting with ideas, adding elements of electronica, rock and pop to an already wide range of styles honed during their formative years. Having shown glimpses of what they were capable of, there was a lot of anticipation surrounding the release of Merriweather Post Pavilion in early 2009. It certainly didn’t disappoint, being their biggest critical and commercial success to date. It was also their most accessible, featuring a psychedelic pop sound with plenty of deep bass and Beach Boys-like vocal harmonies.

That summer I headed off to Greenman to watch them live for the first and only time, just a couple of months after their very well received performance at Glastonbury. I was expecting something special, as were many of those gathering around the main stage that Friday evening. Disappointingly though, they failed to live up to expectations, producing a set that was disjointed, aimless and lacking in any real energy. When I heard that Animal Collective were releasing their first official live album of modern material, I was interested to hear it but not really sure what to expect. Was their Greenman performance an aberration, or was it the norm? Are they just one of those bands that can’t re-create their studio magic in a live setting?

Live at 9:30 was recorded during the final show of a three night run at the 9:30 Club in Washington, DC, which took place from 10-12 June in 2013 as part of the Centipede Hz tour, the 2012 follow-up to Merriweather Post Pavilion. It also serves as a warm-up release for Animal Collective’s next studio album, the recording process for which was completed this past July. The album features a nearly two hour performance of 13 tracks taken from material released between 2005 and 2012, nearly half of which comes from Centipede Hz. 

The set opens strongly with solid performances of “Amanita” and a slightly slowed down version of “Did You See the Words” which contains an added hint of calypso. “Honeycomb” also sounds great, capping off a very good opening run. Their biggest hit to date “My Girls” is up next and you expect things to really take off from here but is let down by some off-pitch vocal performances. “Moonjock” gets things back on course again before the set goes on a meandering 30 minute journey “out there,” featuring drawn out versions of “New Town Burnout” and “Pulleys,” either side of a very poor performance of “I Think I Can.”

“What Would I Want? Sky” is then followed up by “Peacebone” which ends the set on a high, being two of the best performances on the album. As the band thanks the crowd, particularly those who have attended all three nights, someone shouts “play forever.” Instead they compromise by playing “a few more jams,” proceeding with a nearly 30 minute encore featuring a very good version of “Monkey Richens”, before a remixed and a generally all round poor performance of “Brother Sport” produces another dip. The final track is the wild and energetic “The Purple Bottle”, ending the show on a more positive note.

The set list looks pretty good on paper, featuring a range of hits and fan favourites. Sadly though the album is let down by a number of songs that are badly executed, the biggest issue being the off-pitch vocal performances on tracks like “My Girls” and “Brother Sport”. You’re also left feeling that the album might have been stronger if the meandering middle wasn’t quite as drawn out, or perhaps even replaced altogether with some of the bands material which didn’t feature. Notable absences include the likes of “Summertime Clothes” and “For Reverend Green.” All of this leaves the album struggling to gain any real momentum. Despite the ups and downs, it’s still a solid enough live album, giving a fairly honest portrayal of what it is Animal Collective do. At times they’re fun and captivating, but they can also leave you feeling a little frustrated.

Top Tracks: Amanita; Did You See the Words; Moonjock; What Would I Want? Sky; Peacebone

Length: 1:55:53

Released: 04 September, 2015

Genres: Experimental; Electronica; Pop; Psychedelia; Rock

Rating: 7/10

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