Of all the sonic trendsetters to emerge in recent years, Animal Collective — with its penchant for loop-heavy, densely surreal musical landscapes — has proven to be among the most widely influential and consistently divisive. The four-piece outfit has released nine full-length albums in the past 12 years, and as the band’s popularity has grown, so has the intensity of the critical microscope focused upon its artistic achievements. New album “Centipede Hz” is a typically obtuse offering, pairing unpredictable electronic excursions with seemingly nonsensical lyrical refrains and a firmer emphasis on rhythmic diversity.
On first glance, the idea of an experimental outfit like Animal Collective headlining the Hollywood Bowl seems far-fetched, if not downright bizarre. When dealing with non-classical performers, the iconic theater usually defers to the safer realms of pop, rock and dance. But perhaps the conception of Animal Collective as an experimental act deserves reappraisal. Certainly the band’s music is weird and slippery enough to defy traditional conventions of song form, but when placed in front of a large audience Sunday evening, a deeper realization came to the foreground — Animal Collective is a jam band, with all the connotations of self-indulgence and musical tedium that the term suggests.
Breaking with the almost entirely electronic stage settings of recent years, Animal Collective performed in an organic four-station configuration that allowed for its members to approximate, at least visually, the roles of a traditional rock band. Among towering, multi-colored inflatable setpieces, the group opened with “Also Frightened,” a dynamic track blending lengthy chants with off-beat, rhythmic verses. The group followed with three songs from “Centipede Hz” — “Applesauce,” “Wide Eyed” and “Today’s Supernatural.” These songs seemed to crystallize Animal Collective’s live modus operandi, which is an intensely chaotic form of loop-based performance that propagates seemingly endless, bleary-eyed repetitions, punctuated by droning electronics and vocal yelps.
Primary lead vocalist David “Avey Tare” Portner, though engaging and utterly unique in his delivery, seems to be singing to no one in particular; his lyrics and vocal effects are so abstract that they can sometimes appear downright silly. The concert’s surrealist apex came with a frenetic reading of 2009’s “Lion In A Coma,” during which Portner rapidly chanted the titular phrase as bandmate Noah “Panda Bear” Lennox slammed his drumstick against a cymbal.
To its credit, the band chose to close the pre-encore set with three of its most beloved tracks: “Brothersport,” “Peacebone” and “My Girls.” The audience responded wildly to each of the songs and many left their seats to dance and sing along in the aisles. The encore consisted of two more “Centipede Hz” songs, “Pulleys” and “Amanita,” which didn’t galvanize the crowd so much as discreetly close the evening with one last enigmatic statement.