Thickly bearded and shrouded beneath a floppy hat, Sir Richard Bishop warmed up the eager, Monday night crowd. Sort of an edgier Leo Kottke, after about thirty minutes of lighting-quick guitar instrumentals he lightheartedly lambasted the freak folk scene, trying to count the beards in the crowd. Then he broke into a song about hanging a preacher and wrapping the corpse in fancy yarn before chopping it into six pieces. A gloomy number, but he floated in the word "hemlock" so it wasn't without poetry. Bishop's chugging set was an atmospheric intro for Animal Collective, who took the stage casually as the crowd erupted, doubling the whiffs of grass and BO. Band member Geologist wrapped his signature headlamp around his bean and began inspecting what looked like a small mixing board.
Panda Bear readied himself behind a much taller tower of electronic devices and Avey Tare tinkered with a ragtag assortment of percussion instruments and a lonesome keyboard set back behind them all. The band's fourth member, The Deakin, isn't on their current tour, but that didn't seem to bother the audience. One fellow at the head of the stage looked ready to take communion, bowing down and stroking the semicircular area at the front of the stage with spread palms.
Animal Collective is known for live shows with irregular line-ups and songs that stray from their already esoteric albums, strung together with intermittent, atmospheric noodling. This performance was no disappointment on those counts. The bummer was that for all the instances when the music burst to life and spread out across the room like an infectious wave of unbound creation, there were just as many moments where it felt like the trio was building up to a grand revelation that never came.
Two-thirds of the way in, something that sounded vaguely like a scramble of Carl Orff's theme music from the movie Badlands disintegrated until the room felt like a broke down rave. Happily, the blue-balled ache was relieved by the songs off of their Sung Tongs album that they played last. Both Panda Bear and Avey Tare screeched the odd babel that makes up the coda of "We Tigers" while the latter gent nearly split a massive cymbal down the middle using a drumstick. The song segued into a great rendition of "Leaf House," but as the group left the stage with echoes of the word "meow," the crowd was hungry for more; howling, panting and stamping the floor for an encore that never came.