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The aughts’ penultimate years saw the trajectories of Fleet Foxes and Animal Collective steepen in their respective upward slopes. As the latter had taken a decade to eventually rise toward such a pinnacle in 2009, the former’s career was still nascent that year, their popularity contingent on the acclaim amongst Seattle locals of a self-released 2006 EP which led to Sub Pop releasing their second EP and debut full-length both in 2008. The disparity in success is stark, and boils down to gradations of accessibility: Animal Collective began as a band centralizing drone and musique concrete, while Fleet Foxes from the start had fireplace-tender harmonies, crisp acoustic guitars, along with every other motif on the folk troubadour’s grocery list.
In 2008, Fleet Foxes’ self-titled album endowed poignant new repertoire to a generation of high school and college acapella groups; the YouTube results for “‘White Winter Hymnal’ Acapella Cover” are as endless as the rolling hills and rushing waters characteristic of Robin Pecknold’s lyricism. Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion, from 2009, abated the presence of experimental techniques in favor of a poppier, dance-friendlier sound—plumper low-end, effusive harmonies, choruses of flashy, memorable hooks—which explains why “My Girls” has heard its own share of whimsical YouTube acapella covers.
While HipsterRunoff.com was still active into the early 2010’s (before the domain had sold for $21,100 in 2015), the blog’s creator Carlos “Carles” Perez helped define the lexicon of indie rock culture. Along with “chillwave,” he coined “mindie”: mainstream indie—the precise term for distinguishing Fleet Foxes and Animal Collective. When both bands played Merriweather Post Pavilion—the Columbia, Maryland amphitheater from which AnCo derived that album’s name—this past Saturday, it was an obvious callback to the beginning of their mindie-dom almost a decade ago. Animal Collective headlined shows there twice since 2009, the first time along a 2011 tour in support of the venue’s namesake album, again a year later in support of their follow-up Centipede Hz.
Contrary to their steadfast ethos of making each album sound incredibly different from the next, they put out an album this year that sounds just like their stuff that came out well before MPP; as if they went 88 mph straight into the past. In a duo amalgamation of members Panda Bear and Geologist, they recorded Meeting of the Waters—a half-hour of folk music-cum-found sound that’s as authentic as Feels or Here Comes The Indian—in the Amazon Rainforest, documented on Viceland’s Earthworks television series.
They didn’t play any songs from Meeting of the Waters, but they barely played anything from Painting With either, so everything worked out OK. They're wont to drastically rearrange and modify older songs to fit their live experience, which, in this case, was all about high tempo and four-on-the-floor. They sped up “Taste,” from MPP, to segue into a dancier version of “Sweet Road” from Sung Tongs (only a minute long on the album, they prolonged it into a comprehensive jam), into a dancier version of “Bees” from Feels (drummer Jeremy Hyman eloquently provided tight tempo for a track originally without concrete rhythm).
They didn’t change much up in “Summertime Clothes,” also from MPP and their setlist closer, except during the break before they’d normally go right into the third verse, they deviated into a recess of manipulating audio and improvisation—“These guys are weird” said someone to my right—before resuming the song. Avey Tare sang about how his bed is a pool and the walls are on fire; his surrealist visuals cumulatively function as accentuations of how he can’t sleep because he just wants to call a girl and ask to go for a walk. Behind the wackiness of “Summertime Clothes” and other Animal Collective are primal, universal themes.
Which is applicable to Fleet Foxes as well, though instead of wacky visuals, Pecknold has often housed his themes in painterly lyrics that prove his reverence for abstractionists such as Philip Guston, Helen Frankenthaler and Yayoi Kusama—he himself has referred to Fleet Foxes’ more pastoral, fantastical songs as “pure RPG fantasy.” Manifest in his imagistic phrasings are tropes of love, solitude, and, on their 2017 album Crack-Up, tropes that are markedly political: “Cassius” is about the police’s manslaughtering of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, “If You Need To, Keep Time On Me” and the title-track are allegories on the country’s current nepotistic/fascist regime. All three songs were part of their setlist on Saturday.
Fleet Foxes opened with their horn ensemble slowly layering harmonies, implicitly beckoning the rest of the band onto the stage a few minutes later: the almost 20,000 people couldn’t deflect this sonic display of calm. Energy noticeably swayed between soul-catapulting waves of elation on “Grown Ocean” and dizzying quiet into long sprawls in “The Shrine/An Argument” (whose dissonant, Ornettey sax recalled Animal Collective’s “weird” set), but the urge to move like crazy to these guys would’ve been a dubious prospect—or it looked a little awkward, at least, when the person next to me was struggling to dance along to them.
Visuals of reds and oranges bleeding into each other, as well as scrolling mountain peaks, projected behind Fleet Foxes (compared to Animal Collective’s claymated sequences of squares quickly inching around in a salvo like some nuclear waste-infected worm), though their stage presence comprised a row of virtually stagnant body positions. Their wasn’t much outstanding to look at, reinforced by the three guys up out of their seats a few rows up and obstructing the view (hot take: quite a schmeckle move to go out of your way to purchase a seat and not even use it, blocking the people who’re taking advantage of their purchase and actually sitting down).
So “seeing” Fleet Foxes was really all about closing your eyes and taking in their music that way, or joining in with the odd mixture of tie-dyed longhairs and tank-topped swol bros together screaming along to “White Winter Hymnal.” Perhaps Fleet Foxes tap into a minority of dudes who prefer catharsis through sensitive folk and sparse stage presence to Electric Daisy. (Perhaps Electric Daisy isn’t a valid archetype of millennial, live music catharsis anymore.)
Fleet Foxes and Animal Collective are years out of indie rock puberty, and their co-headlined show served as a #throwback to that career stage. Early on in the set, taking a second to address the crowd and the evening, Pecknold referred to Animal Collective as “legendary,” which tells of the level both bands have reached. Their mindie-dom doesn’t describe mere popularity anymore, instead it now symbolizes legacy.
Eli Zeger has written for Noisey, Van Magazine, Real Life, Hyperallergic, DownBeat, and others. He loves his guitar and cat!