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Ten acts that could almost pass as jam bands

Animal Collective at the Ogden Theatre this past September.
Animal Collective at the Ogden Theatre this past September.
Tom Murphy

There are countless bands that stray from the traditional song formula and jam the hell out live. Many of these acts fall under the amorphous indie tag, but there are a few that have notable prog- and psychedelic rock undercurrents flowing through their music, which is naturally conducive to improvisation and exploration. As such, these bands often take chances, and some really have a knack for playing on the cuff live. While they're obviously not, here are ten acts that could almost pass as jam bands.

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10. Poolside

This California group is fast getting attention for the "daytime disco" dance parties its shows create, as well as the outfit's ability to improvise and explore during songs in the live setting. Some have dubbed Poolside as "lounge jam band," for the disco-tinged mellow electro sound being made by Filip Nikolic and Jeffrey Paradise, whose beats and shimmery synths blend into each other nicely, resulting in songs that can grow and expand as the dancefloor sees fit. These guys could play for hours to a poolside party and have the energy going the whole time.

9. Superhuman Happiness

These experienced musicians, who have worked with Antibalas and TV on the Radio in the past, combine syncopated handclaps, lots of percussion and horns to create a celebratory sound that transitions seamlessly from song to song, both live and in studio. The band's latest album Hands is a non-stop piece of music all held together by hard hitting Afro-beat hand claps, and it gives the live shows a charging endlessness that keeps the audience dancing with force.

8. Delicate Steve

An instrumental band from New Jersey, Delicate Steve is signed to Luaka Bop, a record label first started by David Byrne. Guitarist Steve Marion is a creative virtuoso, taking songs further than they should go. Constantly playing with time and tempo, Marion presents the guitar as if it's his lead vocals in a Tropicalia manner, with delicate twinkling fretboard work that is bouncy and energetic. Everything tends to get pushed to the brink of falling apart, and then, suddenly, it finds its resolution and climax.

7. Real Estate

Real Estate is another band with roots in New Jersey, and it's led by guitarist Matt Mondanile, who also records under the name Ducktails and has collaborated with Animal Collective's Panda Bear. A little bit of psychedelia adds to the group's relaxed sound, creating a dreamy texture that elevates the music from other chillwave acts. Live, the group take things a little slower, which gives the members time and space to explore.

6. Deerhunter

Atlanta five-piece has roots in progressive rock and post-punk. The act's live shows are completely unpredictable and often lead to drawn out, reverb heavy versions of different songs. The ambient-heavy music, combined with the mercurial nature of lead singer and guitarist Bradford Cox, allows for anything to happen. Special props are due for the hour-long version of "My Sharona" that Cox played under his solo project, Atlas Sound, after a heckler wouldn't shut up about it.

5. Tame Impala

These psychedelic Aussie rockers have gained international status with their refreshingly clean style of psych rock. They don't stray too far live from their studio work, as most of their work is compositional. Frontman Kevin Parker is a control freak, enough so that he actually wrote, recorded and played the entire debut Innerspeaker EP by himself, all instruments. While the band's music is pretty strictly orchestrated, live it shows itself to be flexible, as guitar solos and bridges become extended and dense with pedal effects and sounds.

4. Akron/Family

Akron/Family specializes in folky, post rock and experimental goodness. Live, the band leans on improvisation heavily, as well as three part harmonies. At times seeming like a campfire with dark orange lighting and guttural moaning, the band's live shows are almost like taking a spiritual journey, droning, always keeping a back beat as their songs flow in and out. Seeing dudes with dreadlocks is not out of the norm at some Akron/Family shows.

3. Yo La Tengo

New Jersey indie rock veterans, this band covers the gamut of sounds and keeps you on your toes live. Various songs delve into guitar jams and meditative themes, with some versions of popular songs sometimes varying wildly from their studio cousins. This band plays with rhythms a lot, bringing the tempo up and down during songs at will. While they seem nice and huggable at the start, something happens on stage, and when the bridge hits they let the music take control. Guitarist Ira Kaplan is particularly noted for his noise jams.

2. Animal Collective

This experimental psychedelic band from Baltimore plays with different time signatures and noise, segueing from each song into the next through layers of abstract percussion and synthesizers. The outfit creates big walls of sound that drop on a dime into the melody of the next song like a surprise, causing the audience to exclaim happy nonsense and throw their hands up each time. Panda Bear and the rest of the band keep things interesting with their multi-instrumentalism, jumping from guitars to keyboards, drum machines to bass, with the music flowing the whole time.

1. White Denim

This low-down, raw rock and soul group originally out of Austin creates big, noisy soundscapes with their pedals looping melodies and taking their sound to a dizzying heights. Sometimes the band plays without a setlist and doesn't even know itself where things will go. The band seamlessly modulates into different tempos, really communicating well together when on stage.

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