Animal Collective/Atlas Sound @ Brudenell Social Club, Leeds, 21.05.08

A surreal and healthy dose of Maryland burlesque momentarily brightens the scruffy raincoat-reality of an anonymous social club in Leeds. Irfan Shah was there to see the rainbow.

It’s sweetly ironic that the man behind Atlas Sound is knelt over his effects peddle as if he’s just had sand kicked in his face.

Bradford Cox plays his set of ambient emo-tronica in a crouched, almost foetal position, picking at his guitar and hunched over his pedal controls with the rapt attention of an eight year old bringing the Flying Scotsman into Crewe on his Hornby trainset.

Hummed vocals and strummed strings are fed into his effects box, layered and played back out to the audience. The music is an accretion of sounds – taps, strums and echoes all merging together so that it’s impossible to talk about discrete pieces but simply to follow certain currents and hover over interesting eddies in the general flow of the act. To begin with, the soft ethereal wash is almost irresistible and meanders pleasantly into some slightly harsher waters where Twin Peak-style vocals are underscored by punches of reverb-drenched percussion and various random sounding effects, as if Angelo Badalamenti was now writing scores for ghost trains. When the elements gel it’s lovely. In between however, there are vast stretches of nothing much.

Nevertheless, we are all mellowed nicely as The Animal Collective, over from the States on a European tour, saunter on, flick switches and launch into the wonderful, swaggering ‘Peacebone’. If Beck sang with Fourtet it would sound like this – a patchwork quilt of samples, stop-start rhythms and the vocals, a folky drawl that switches briefly to a burst of piercing-shriek falsetto in the chorus.

What I like about Animal Collective’s studio sound is their otherworldly charm that’s carried along on some pretty eclectic electronica. They combine the magpie aesthetic of sampling with oddball lyrics hung onto gorgeous melodies that have a tinge of folk about them (think of old English balladry that would still sound emotive sung acapella).

What I like about their live sound, however, is that it’s so muscular and disco. This is a band that could not only entertain at offbeat venues like the heroically arty Brudenell, but at bigger venues, dancier venues, museums, pubs, whatever, with their spiky yet uplifting sound.

The volume and rhythm are compelling. The bass doubles like a heartbeat – once from the speakers into air and once again as it rattles through all the metal fittings in the room. It’s a big old sound they’ve got, and while it’s still left-of-centre keyboards and samples, it’s played at quite a pace and often underpinned by some emphatic percussion. In fact, many of the tracks are shot through with drum fills played live on electronic toms that evoke the jodhpur wearing ghosts of eighties’ pop, from Adam and the Ants to Red Box (ask your dad).

The stage is populated by keyboards that are festooned with wires like the emptied contents of a thousand party poppers. Around the edges stand short columns of lights stacked vertically and throwing out vivid flashing circles of light – violent reds on one, crisp greens on another, like cheap fairground effects or a dodgy set from Top of the Pops circa 1976. And amidst it all, the Animals hop and jerk and shuffle like they’re dancing to ska whilst trying to reach an itch without being noticed. Occasionally, drums quieten and the band hit a new ethereal high – slow, swooping voices duet through the clouds of synth (don’t ask me to name the singers: when band members are called Geologist, Panda Bear, Avey Tare and Deakin it’s kind of hard to keep up.)

And then come the drums again and we’re off, watching them pogo-ette restlessly, as they continue with their scratchy, Dust Brother vibe. Midway through, they speak. Graceful, grateful and spaced they say ‘hi’ and make a token gesture towards the real world that squats drably outside the Brudenell’s sweating walls:

“Hey….it’s, you know…football,” says one silhouetted Animal, presumably in reference to tonight’s European Champions’ League final. Then, as an afterthought:

“Hey… you know….. like, Chelsea!”

A few cheers from the odd art rocker vaguely aware that one of England’s biggest matches is currently playing, that Chelsea probably do have a football team and that it may or may not be somehow involved with the match. But then it’s back into indie-world and the electro-dodgem-folk of this lovely band who dance and play into the night.

Afterwards, we step outside into damp reality of Leeds and the queue for the taxi that will drive us towards the dawn, to the news that John Terry fluffed his last penalty, and to the few hours sleep before the run for the bus, packed and damp with condensation from rain soaked commuters and the rest of the shitty week. But the gig is still there – a point of colour, a happy thought, a spot of madness courtesy of the good people from the Brudenell.

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Report by Irfan Shah for Crud Magazine 2008©

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