Panda Bear Live: A Fanboy's Odyssey
As a massive fan of the psychedelic-alternative-chamber music-rocker Panda Bear, I was among the first to enter the general admission floor for his Brooklyn show. With the prospect of hearing new material, I had no qualms whatsoever about standing in a sweaty crowd for three hours. The stage was bare minus the imposing figure struck by the single podium of synthesizers and vocoders, flanked on either end by strobe lights. Panda Bear finally emerged from the wings with an air of quiet reverence, ascending his lectern of equipment like a priest to his pulpit. “Hey everyone” he mumbled, and without further ado he unleashed a psychotropic vortex into the Music Hall of Williamsburg, swallowing us whole with the colossal force of his wall of sound.
He stood alone on stage, working maniacally at his equipment while still managing to bless us with his sweetly angelic voice, a cherub guiding us through a really terrifying acid trip. We were treated to a visual component that featured alien women in various states of coitus and/or vomiting, made further intriguing by a rainbow light show rivaling the trip to Jupiter in Kubrick’s 2001. To top it all off, he occasionally let loose a blinding display of strobe lights so intense it seemed to fuck with the very fabric of time. Yet through all of the madness he still maintained the blended structure of his albums by playing without stopping, making the concert more of a ‘synth-symphony’ than a dance party. All together, it was literally able to induce synesthesia, an imposed hallucinatory experience so intense that I could have sworn I saw a spectra of light shaped like a gazelle leap across the stage. The visceral high he supplied combined with the elation of hearing unheard, newfangled compositions was almost too much for the invested concertgoer to bear (pun only semi-intended).
Panda Bear, aka Noah Lennox, is at this point an iconoclast of the indie music world. He has produced some of the millennium’s most exalted work, including 2007’s Person Pitch, which received the distinguished honor of Pitchfork’s Album of the Year, and 2011’s palatial follow up, Tomboy. And lest we forget, he continues to produce and record under musical juggernaut Animal Collective, of which he is a founding member. So when rumors began to flurry earlier this year of a new Panda Bear album, it became an event, a signal of the imminent return of an alt-rock deity.
Yet for all of the anticipation, his new album remains shrouded in mystery. We know that a tentative title is Panda Bear vs. The Grim Reaper, a speculation seemingly made apparent by a new website, pbvsgr.com, and a series of midshow clips depicting a robed, skeletal figure tearing stuffed panda bears apart. And we know that he recently released a mixtape that incorporated some brief segments of new material but it was buried deep within a mix of previously recorded music. For those fortunate enough to catch him on this tour, the speculation period is over.
Aside from a few Tomboy cuts, the entirety of Panda Bear’s set was comprised of unreleased material, an assortment of demos that he has shopped around at live shows through the year with some brand new tracks making their stage debut peppered in. But if it’s any indication whatsoever of the finished product, the wait has been worth it. This new work is both a logical evolution of the Panda Bear sound but a plunge into a drastically different soundscape. The most noticeable addition is an emphasis on the beats, the resounding thomp of which has been seamlessly woven into his customary fabric of twinkling synths and hymn-like harmonies that are staples of his previous work. There is a mechanical precision to his rhythms that is more sharply felt, which gives way to a clarity in his vocals that is brought further into focus. His music has become tangibly richer, yet there is a newfound sense of urgency, a pressing dynamism only hinted at in his former work.
So was it fun? GOD yes. One song in particular, rumored to be titled ‘Boys Latin,’ was so funkily delicious that I was giggling out loud like an idiot at the extent to which I was shaking it. Oblivious to the ass-jiggling and gut busting laughter being ejected around him, Lennox sustained a professional stoicism throughout the performance that was only broken toward the end of his set. “Play all of the songs you’ve ever written!” one desperate fan wailed, to which Lennox cracked a rare smile. It seemed to say, ‘you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.’
Photos by Jake Boyer