The Civic Theatre is a 110-year-old theater in New Orleans, the oldest in the city. A few years ago, it underwent a complete renovation, giving this classic theater a strangely modern aesthetic, inside and out. This made for a surprisingly fitting location for electronic acts Animal Collective and Actress on Monday night, November 14th.
Actress came out in a hoodie and quickly sat down, occluded by his equipment. He began by playing tinny ambient bleeps for quite a while, long enough that much of the crowd was engaged in conversation rather than his music. He switched gears and the rest of the set was bass-dominant and danceable, bringing the crowd back on his side. However, there is a ceiling of engagement when a performance artist is so detached that they never acknowledge the presence of an audience. Similar to his entrance, after 45 minutes he simply got up and walked off stage.
The majority of Animal Collective’s set was from their most recent album Painting With (QRO review). The rest came from throughout their career, with an unrecognizable cover of the Martha & The Vandellas song “Jimmy Mack” thrown in. Painting With is notable for its songs being shorter and poppier than is typical for Animal Collective. Most pieces on it have intricately woven vocals and dense production, with a variety of noises bubbling in and out of the background. It should be no surprise, then, that it was recorded in the same room of the same studio as the legendary Pet Sounds.
However, this density doesn’t lend itself for easy reproduction in a live setting. The sound was often cacophonous and hard to make out unless you came armed with full knowledge of every bit of electronic noodling from Painting With. Interestingly, for better or worse, this cacophony was extended to the entire set, transforming the sparse and cheery “Guys Eyes” from Merriweather Post Pavilion (QRO review) into a menacing rumble. I am thankful this song wasn’t recorded the way it was performed live, but Animal Collective is not a band you see to ‘play the hits’ exactly as recorded, so it was an interesting spin to witness and one of the more memorable parts of the show. In general, the performance was much more visceral than the experience of listening to Animal Collective on record, and that is ultimately a plus for live performances.
Another point in favor of the complex, swirling sound was the similarity to how overwhelming the visuals on stage were. A variety of objects, large and small, sat on the stage or dangled from the ceiling, against a wild, colorful backdrop. When the set started, moving colorful streaks were projected onto specific regions of these scenes, almost animating the surroundings. The colors and patterns changed throughout the show, never getting stagnant. The intense blasts of sound shook the modular floor that was laid down for the general admission audience on the ground floor, appealing to one more sense and keeping the crowd moving. A theatre this old in a city with this much music history must have seen a lot over the years, but I doubt it has witnessed a show like this before.