This was easily the most I’ve looked forward to a gig since Arcade Fire, Flaming Lips and Kraftwerk all played for my 30th Birthday.

Now, I appreciate that, technically, the above bands did not, in fact play for my 30th birthday. Deep down, I know that they all happened to be on a festival bill which took place a few weeks before my 30th birthday. However, I’m working on the theory that, if I tell myself enough times that they did, then years from now, when I’m living in a nursing home and several marbles short of a schoolboys pocket, I’ll genuinely believe it to be true. And how great will that be?

The new album wasn’t due to be released until the day before the gig, but the hype on the blogosphere for this one has been so incredible that I couldn’t resist a sneak peek. When I read on Wikipedia that it leaked on Christmas day (what a christmas present!), I was helpless to resist. On first listen, it only took until the end of the second track, (the sublime ‘My Girls’), before I went to Amazon to preorder it. That was on the 29th December and it’s more or less been on permanant rotation ever since.

I had no sooner finished writing my best albums of 2008 list when quite possibly, the best album of 2009 comes along. It had been a  long gestation period getting into Animal Collective with a few aborted attempts. (Hint to noobs, ‘Here Comes The Indian‘ may be a great album once you allow its charms to work on you for a while, but it might not be the best album to start dipping your toe in to the band with.) I finally found a way in Strawberry Jam and then worked my way back.

Around the time last year  I was really getting into them, they played Oran Mor. Unfortunately, we were in Germany at the time announcing to my inlaws that we had got married so we couldn’t go.

So yes, I had been REALLY looking forward to this one. Did it live up to the expectations? Well…

In an unusual turn of events, we weren’t actually first in line for a gig for once. There were four or five people in front of us. When the doors finally opened, the bouncers shouted down the line for us to have both tickets and ID ready. I was in usual ‘travelling-light’ gig mode and had nothing more than cash and ticket in my pockets. Panicked thoughts of a long drive back home to pick up my drivers licence started fleeting through my head. Then someone in front of me questioned why ID was required. The bouncer qualified his earlier statement by saying that if anyone wanted to be served at the bar, ID would have to be shown.

I like to think I look youthful but the simple fact of the matter is, I’m 33 years old and slightly overweight with a hairline not so much receding as hastily retreating. There is absolutely no chance that anyone could possibly mistake me for being younger than 18.  I asked him, when it was my turn to show my ticket, if I was seriously going to have to show ID to buy a pint. His response was non verbal, but the look was just withering enough to answer my question.

As we squeezed past the younger attendees having their ID checked before getting a black cross written on the back of their hand, I noticed that the younger ones had the indignity of having ‘U18’ written on theirs. [Edit: Revhalfro has pointed out that it was, in fact, a smiley face and not U18]

It’s a long time since I was last in the Art School. Last time was Mouse on Mars and Future Pilot AKA back in 2001 as part of the second Triptych lineup. It isn’t exactly as I remembered but, since my memory of that evening is a blur with numerous black holes, and an embarassing attempt to strike up a drunken conversation with Sushil Dade during his set, that’s probably a good thing.

My first impression this time round was of the sound system. Blimey, that gives good bass. A fact amply demonstrated by the spleen rupturing dubstep they chose to play, every other song, before the bands started.  The pre band music they played was actually ace. One track in particular stood out as warranting further investigation so I made best effort to make a mental note of  some of the lyrics with the intention of investigating further the following day. Unfortunately, the only line I could still remember by next morning was  a repeated refrain of  “I don’t know what happened”.

According to Google, there are ‘About 2,050,000’ results for that phrase. However, being the freaking google ninja that I am, I managed to figure out the track is What Happen’d? by SJ Esau. I was able to verify this by a quick scan of the rest of the lyrics and immediately recognised the rather more memorable line (by all but me, evidently): “A hurricane of piss and shit came to my door”.

Around 15 minutes late, the support act, Highlife, hit the stage. We were lucky enough to be front and centre. When he started playing, the speakers, which were already set to stun, were cranked up to dematerialise.

On witnessing him, I passed on to the next age of gig goer. When you first go to gigs, it seems as though everyone, band and audience, are older than you. After a while, the audience are the same age but the bands are still older. Gradually, the audience gets younger and you’re the same age as the bands. Then, even the bands are younger than you. I had accepted all of these stages graciously as they came and went. I thought there were no more stages to come. However, when a man on stage can have a beard, and not a whispy bumfluff beard but a full on man-of-the-forest style beard, and still look like a child, then you really feel old.

When Highlife played their first notes,  I immediately realised we weren’t quite as centred as I thought we were. I could tell this by the fact that whilst the music sounded damned loud through my right ear, my left ear immediately waved a white flag.  The bass, it could handle but Highlife had quite a high vocal range and a tendancy to sing the vocal sound ‘eeeeee’ as high as he could a lot, which, at our proximity and direct line to the speaker was the aural equivelant of a parmesan grater on my ear drums.

None of this is to criticise the music though since they (well, he since there was only one of them) started out brilliantly with a sitar like drone from a strange squeezebox contraption. The next few songs all sounded completely different to one before but were all really good. Samples, loops, guitar all coming together in a great way. I started thinking that this was exactly the sort of brilliantly eclectic band you might imagine supporting Animal Collective. Unfortunately, he shot his bolt a little to early.

Somewhere around the halfway point of his set, it was as though he allowed the loud talking from the back of the hall to drain every ounce of confidence from him. He seemed keen to get off the stage as quickly as he could, despite the fact that, from where I was stood, the crowd appeared to be genuinely into him.

He even resorted to the old support act trick of asking the audience ‘so are you all looking forward to Animal Collective then?’ which of course solicited a cheer. He then laughed nervously and said, to himself more than anyone else ‘I knew at least that would get a cheer’ before continuing with a few more perfectly nice, but average, alt-folk strumalongs before finishing his set.

He mentioned that he had a CD at the merch stall which was pay-what-you-like. If it wasn’t for the fact we had our space camped out down the front, I probably would have bought it. It was certainly worth a fiver based on what I heard.

On to business then. Not having seen them live before, and given their tendancy not to pose for normal band pictures, I didn’t really know what any of them looked like or what to expect.I had somehow imagined that not much would be happening onstage and it was going to be like watching orbital or something where there are just a few guys staring at keyboards and rows of knobs and not moving very much.I was wrong

As opener ‘In the flowers’ errupted into its euphoric second half  the lightshow exploded and attacked my sight with the same approximate intensity that the speakers were pummeling my ears. The real visual treat though was Avey Tares incredible ‘death by electrocution’ grimaces and head shakes throughout the show.

The set they played was very heavy on material from the new album but judging by the number of people singing along, theres either a lot of very fast learners in the AC fanbase or else I wasn’t the only one to have downloaded it earlier than it’s release date. The main problem with this is that, for a band 9 albums into their career,  there was so much great older stuff that got left out. a balance of old and new would have been nice.

I had anticipated that ‘My Girls’ was going to be the highlight of the evening, given how much like braincrack it has been to me since I first listened to it. However, if I was pushed to pick one, ‘Lion in a Coma’ was probably the highlight. The song has a perfect balance of melody, beats and noise.

Another highlight was the extended tribal drum wigout instrumental in the middle of ‘Fireworks’, which segwayed into the dayglow rave of set closer ‘Brothersport’.

The normal band ritual of leave the stage, wait one minute, return to stage was followed then they played two more songs. Neither of which could match the highs of the main set. Particularly, the final song they played ‘Daily Routine’ , I thought we could have done without. On the album, it starts out well but drifts into repetitiveness in it’s second half. Live, the second half of the song seemed to stretch on even longer.

They left the stage again and the lights came up. Is it wrong to wish, after such a brilliant show that they had gone without the encore and left us wanting more?

All in all though, it lived up to expectations and I still can’t stop listening to the new album compulsively, even though I should maybe be listening to a bit more Of Montreal before we go and see them next week.

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