Saturday, December 14, 2013

Whiskey Gentry and Animal Collective = scatterbrained weekend

I saw two shows last weekend, which leaves me in a bind. Which one do I cover for my monthly concert review? Why not both? Let's start with The Whiskey Gentry, who rocked Atlanta's Variety Playhouse Saturday night. There was a strong Christmas theme, due in part to the fact that this show was their 5th annual Merry Y'all Tide Celebration, which apparently they do in their hometown of Atlanta every year in December.

Blair Crimmins and Michael Smith find themselves in the holiday spirit.

Their basic sound is that of country mixed with folk, but what caught my attention with this band is they mix in gypsy/punk influences into the music. It's not exactly woven into the actual sound, but their demeanor on stage and the way they interact with one another has an almost punk mentality to it. And they're all practically virtuoso level on their instruments. There was a violinist, a mandolin player, a guy who played a banjo-tar, and they would all go nuts on their instruments cranking out crazy solo after crazy solo. There's a southern vibe to it to be sure, but it's almost as if New York or Boston was trying to emulate a Southern hoe-down.

Whiskey Gentry singer Lauren Staley rips it up.
It was also cool that they alternated singers. Lead singer Lauren Staley is a typical country/western girl, who
did have a great voice, but they let the violinist sing for one song and he impressed with his great, smooth tenor. They also had a big, unshaven guitarist who looked like he could have been from the Dropkick Murphys, who sang a song about New York in a rough bristling voice. The diversity of this band was incredible. Of course they did have their winey country tinged songs. There was song about getting drunk and making out with strangers, which was supposed to be a tribute to one of the singer's friends, and there was also this smartass song she wrote in response to one of her bandmembers who said she hadn't been writing enough songs.

But there was also the fact that this was apparently some sort of jubilee, and as such the band had several guests, all from other Atlanta area bands, that came out with them onstage periodically. There was a guy that looked like John Lennon who came out and sang a Christmas Carol with Staley, there was a lady who came out and did backup vocals on one song, and even a guy who came out and started playing crazy harmonica. During the encore, everyone came out on the stage, including Blair Crimmins, the opening act, along with his entire horn section. All told there were 15 people on stage at once all going nuts and singing, while confetti was raining down all over the stage. I'm not even from this town, and I was still feeling the vibes.

Animal Collective, on the other hand, was a completely different experience, for more reasons than the obvious. To be honest I was not really into this show. A few songs I liked, but as a whole I don't feel much of a connection with most of the material they have been playing on this tour. The setlist, which is dominated by their latest album, Centipede Hz, and tunes from a few obscure EPs, don't show off the band at their best. It's too noodly, too trippy, and spends too much time floating and wandering around without making much of an indelible impact. Opening with "Applesauce" was cool, but other cuts like "I Think I Can" and "Pulleys" just float around with too much abstract silliness and ambiance, that sound like it would be suited to sync up perfectly with an acid trip, but not everyone is into that.

Deakin of Animal Collective sets a dreary mood.

With their fanbase expanding, Animal Collective seems hard pressed to hold on to their status as the leading drug band which is what they seem to be trying to do. Merriweather Post Pavillion and Strawberry Jam are filled with great, challenging material that shows off various different components to the band than what they've played live recently, but judging by their setlists it's like they're trying to do as much as they can to disown those albums. It's like they're trying to maintain their indie/hipster cred by downplaying the fact they now have a successful/more accessible record and are trying to act like it doesn't exist. I respect they aren't selling out but it feels like they're going a bit far.

Certain songs did sound a bit different, which is a nice change. I didn't even really recognize "Lion in a Coma" until one of my friends pointed it out after the show. I did notice the song's trademark bouncing didgeridoos but wasn't sure if they were just trying to work those into the mix for some other song. The middle section of "Brother Sport" was also quite different from the recording, which was cool. I also appreciated "Amanita." The closing refrain of "I'm going to come back and things will be different/I'm going to bring back some stories and games" captures the childlike wonder that the band so masterfully captured during their early career. 
Related post:

Animal Collective - Centipede Hz review

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