Over the years Animal Collective, the experimental pop group with Baltimore roots, has been something of a confounding live act. They would headline gigs and play material most of the audience had never heard, songs they were still developing. With the meteoric success of 2009's Merriweather Post Pavilion and its 2012 follow-up, Centipede Hz, and the expectations that came with gaining a larger audience, the band's live sets took on a more traditional approach, often serving as a vehicle for promoting the new material but also supported by a few selections from the band's previous records. Tuesday night at the 9:30 Club found them in a somewhat unfamiliar territory: performing nearly a year removed from their last album with nothing but their back catalog from which to draw.
Which is to say, Animal Collective had to rely on the hits, as much as a band as divergent and awash in noise as Animal Collective is can have a "hit." They more than rose to the occasion, performing a pulsing set of songs dating back to 2005's Feels that demonstrated how the band's full, four-piece lineup could be a proficient force equal parts air-tight and elastic. As the Animal Collective is wont to do, a lot of their most familiar songs from past albums were tweaked, reworked, or enhanced, creating something familiar yet adventurously new.
The infectious, sugar-fed beat of "My Girls," perhaps the group's most popular song, seemed almost lithe compared to the album version, transforming the hook-heavy dance-pop song about familial duties into a communal sing-along. The bouncy Feels track "The Purple Bottle" had an added bass-heavy undercurrent, which sent the crowd in the middle of the 9:30 Club floor into a sweaty, throbbing frenzy. While the band did play the drippy, other-worldly music of Centipede Hz songs "Today's Supernatural," "Applesauce," "Wide Eyed," and "Father Time," they struck a better balance in trotting out old warhorses. Perhaps the most welcome development was the seeming rediscovery of the post-Merriweather EP Fall Be Kind, a darker foil to the ebullient, pop friendly songs that pushed Animal Collective from critical darlings to one of the massive bands atop the indie music heap. The show had a little bit of everything, a little something for everyone, and that was maybe the best part about it. With a wealth of material and an ever-fervent fanbase, Animal Collective finally indulged in reaching back a bit instead of continuing to push themselves forward. In truth, there were plenty of moments when they managed to do both.