On Saturday night, I felt proud to live in Las Vegas. I rarely experience that sensation at rock shows, having spent countless hours in near-empty venues and among disinterested audiences, But here they were, some 1,550 paid attendees—and they didn’t show up to fold their arms and watch; they came to the House of Blues to soak up, to interact with, to truly experience the band onstage.
They all turned out to see Animal Collective, the experimental sound manipulators from Baltimore. Had the trio’s densely pulsating, looped and layered electronics and chanted vocals drawn a few dozen to the Bunkhouse, I’d have been less surprised than I was to be in a near-capacity throng along the Strip. Even co-frontman Avey Tare seemed shocked. “You guys are sweet,” he said twice during the 90-minute set. “We’ve never been here before ... hopefully we can come back soon.”
Performing in near-darkness with their equipment set atop glowing cloth-covered tables, Tare, fellow singer Panda Bear and sonic tweaker Geologist (fourth member Deakin typically abstains from the road) performed seven cuts from January’s Merriweather Post Pavilion—music far easier to grab hold of than much of Animal Collective’s early catalog. “My Girls,” “Brother Sport” and latest single “Summertime Clothes,” in particular, came across poppy and upbeat, providing the dance floor with easy opportunities to shake, sing and, in a few odd cases, crowd surf.
Two new songs, reportedly titled “Bleed” and “What Would I Want Sky,” showed off the band’s harmonic style—the two vocalists weave separate lines around and over one another—and hinted at an even more electronic future. Still, if the evening had a downside, it stemmed from the set list; with more organic ’09 tour mainstays like “Who Could Win a Rabbit” and “Leaf House” skipped over, the Vegas show suffered from a bit of sameness, so that by the time lengthy versions of “Fireworks” and “Daily Routine” arrived back to back, the set felt just a bit burdensome.
That was hardly enough to spoil an impressive showing by Animal Collective, however, or by Las Vegas. Now, if only HOB bookers can heed the crowd’s message—that this town might be willing and able to support interesting live acts—and some lyrics from Panda Bear’s “Comfy in Nautica,” performed during the encore: “Coolness is having courage.”