Panda Bear aka Noah Lennox is probably best known as a key member of experimental popsters Animal Collective however he’s got a pretty high profile as a solo artist in his own right. His 2007 LP ‘Person Pitch’ is one of the best records of the 00s. It’s a glorious, haunting stew of Beach Boys harmonies, Dub bass and lo-fi sampled loops and if you’ve not heard it and that description piqued your interest then stop reading this now and go and acquire it using your preferred method. His two follow up records I’ll be honest didn’t quite grab me quite as much but he recently released an excellent Vinyl E.P. ‘A Day with the Homies’ which definitely did – so I’m eager to hear what else he’s got up his sleeve.
The stage set is up is very minimal. Noah is playing solo as always, with just a Mic, a couple of samplers and FX units and some sort of modular synth thing. He has some excellent visuals to make up for the lack of on-stage action – so the music is accompanied by synapse frazzling images of sexy dancing Aliens, melting strawberries, strobes and digital distortions. It soon becomes apparent he’s going to be playing the new EP and a load of other new tracks. Fortunately he clearly has a killer new LP in the works. (Famously, Animal Collective would promote an album by mostly playing new stuff from the next one so this is to be expected). The songs are perhaps a bit more in the vein of ‘Person Pitch’ but odd, warped rhythms emerge and there are lots of chunky acoustic guitar samples that are bit T.Rex-ish. The vocal melodies are curious and strange, almost like warped versions of old 50s or 60s pop songs but set to tough, Urban beats, infinitely evolving loops of uncertain origin and odd clattering noises – and occasionally huge Spacemen 3 style lysergic drones. Obviously I’m really into this!
There are lots of people making strange, unearthly music like this in their back bedrooms nowadays but Noah’s special power is his voice. He can *really* sing. Brian Wilson is the most obvious comparison, he has that lovely swooping, keening quality to his voice that Brian had in his peak. In fact – imagine if Brian had quit the Beach Boys just after Pet Sounds and bought a load of Synths and recorded his own electronic Teenage hymns..it might have sounded like this. He can go pretty far out sonically, but I love the fact he always tries to shape the sonic mayhem into something vaguely resembling a song – even if it’s, at one point, the unsettling (in the current climate) sound of Air Raid sirens set to punishing beats.
Noah blends each song into the next like a DJ set, so there aren’t many opportunities to show your appreciation but eventually the miasma of loops and harmonics dies down he finally gets a huge ovation at the end of the main set. An encore is demanded. I suspect nothing old will be played and sure enough he saves the encore for more new tracks – the last one being particularly stunning – huge droning chords, that soaring voice and the strobe effects all combining in full effect.
Capacity crowd, and clearly getting into it. Lots of cool kids but I wasn’t the oldest there! Animal Collective have done some legendary gigs in Manchester so anyone from that group gets a heroes welcome anyway.
It made me think..
I’m genuinely blown away by the set. No old stuff (unless I missed a deep cut from one of the earlier records) but I’ve just heard 75 mins of genuinely innovative and thrilling music. It’s been intense, moving and exciting and… well – what more do you want from a gig? Not bad for a shy bloke behind a workbench with a bunch of electronic gadgets.
In the late 90s I was really into what became known as Post-Rock, bands like Disco Inferno, Seefeel, Bark Psychosis. Those bands were pushing hard at the envelope of what could be done musically but got somewhat swept away by the twin headed beast of the dreaded Britpop and Uncut magazine sponsored ‘Americana’/snooze rock. I don’t know if Noah was into that stuff but if tonight is anything to go by he’s picked up where they left off and…he’s going there!. Yessss!!!!