Monday, September 13

Panda Bear / Nite Jewel [Fox Theater, Oakland 09.06.2010]

Panda Bear Brings New Songs, Danny Perez to the Fox
by Rebecca Gayle

Closing out the Labor Day weekend, Panda Bear – otherwise known as Noah Lennox from the three-man band Animal Collective – left Geologist and Avey Tare behind to play a solo show at Oakland’s Fox Theater on Monday.

Opening for Animal Collective was Los Angeles’ Nite Jewel, a project that began with Bay Area native Ramona Gonzalez, who is both keyboardist / lead singer and owner of the Nite Jewel pseudonym. As is expected of an opener from Panda Bear, Gonzalez’s band was another heavily electronic-influenced group, with an emphasis on synthesizers and keyboards characteristic of the recent chill wave movement. Unlike many other chill wave bands, however, Nite Jewel differentiates itself with its emphasis on vocals, thanks to Gonzalez’s floatingly angelic voice, and dancer-friendliness.

Live, however, the overlaying dominance of Gonzalez’s voice on Nite Jewel’s 2010 release, Am I Real?, was lost, but, refreshingly, allowed listeners to appreciate the detailed electronic layering that the band creates with its synthesizer, keyboard, bass, drums, and occasional electric guitar. Amazingly – and unlike many an electronic band – Nite Jewel features a live drummer, whose precision and exactingness would fool anyone into thinking he was a drum machine instead of a living, breathing musician.

For the most part, Nite Jewel kept the crowd enraptured by its rousing, dance-y set. At times, however, some of the band’s musical effects – including the vocals – were barely audible over the layering of instrumentation. In spite of this, Nite Jewel managed to make a reasonably good impression upon the audience, and, during the last song of its roughly 45-minute set, whipped out all the stops with an especially rousing number that had Cole M. Grief-Neill, who played both synthesizer and electric guitar throughout the set, throw down an impressive guitar solo. At the end of the set, Nite Jewel had accomplished its mission to entertain the audience with its distinctly more dance-y and vocals-influenced electronic music.

After Nite Jewel, Panda Bear took stage, beginning his set with the enthralling, organ- and reverb-heavy “Drone,” one of the many songs from Tomboy, the highly anticipated follow-up to 2007’s Person Pitch, which should be released by the end of this year. New songs that make very strong candidates for Tomboy – the exact songs and song order of the album is yet to be determined / announced – comprised the vast majority of the setlist. Placed among the unfamiliarity of Tomboy’s songs – save for “Tomboy” and “Slow Motion,” which were released a few months ago – were a couple Animal Collective favorites from Merriweather Post Pavilion (“Guys Eyes” and “Daily Routine”), as well as two classics from Person Pitch, namely “Comfy in Nautica” and “Ponytail.”

Because Tomboy has not yet been released, the majority of Panda Bear fans found themselves hearing roughly 8 to ten previously unheard and unknown tracks, save for those fans who had seen Lennox on his Tomboy tour before it hit the Fox. Compared to 2007’s Person Pitch, the songs of Tomboy mark a rather drastic change from the light, airy, overly optimistic songs of Person Pitch with their darker and more somber nature, perpetuated by a heavy reliance on reverb and organs, which is not to be found on Person Pitch. Throughout his set, however, Panda Bear managed not only to tirelessly and seamlessly meld one song into the next, but he also played a very balanced set that lightened the sonic gravity of much of Tomboy with the lighter, happier songs of Person Pitch and Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion, as well as Tomboy’s “Surfer’s Hymn,” whose composition somehow conveys sheer, utter bliss.

Despite being rather tied down to his keyboard / synthesizer equipment, as well as an electric guitar, Panda Bear still managed to captivate the audience’s entire aural attention with the innovation and intricacy of his new album. Visually, Danny Perez – the mastermind behind “ODDSAC,” the visual album created by Perez featuring the music of Animal Collective, as well as close friend of Lennox and the other members of Animal Collective – provided the backdrop, gripping the audience’s focus with looped mini-films that featured various colors and shapes melding into each other, interspersed with images inspired by campy ’60s horror films that characterizes his work. Needless to say, Perez’s show kept the audience’s eyes glued to the screen, always in suspense of what odd scene would come up next. During Panda Bear’s opening song, Perez began by displaying shapes of various colors that weaved and seeped into each other, but interrupted that rather peaceful experience by repeatedly flashing an image of the grim reaper as the song progressed and became heavier and more intense.

Another highlight of Perez’s visual contribution to the show was a clip of a girl happily jumping up and down, which he repeated throughout “Comfy in Nautica” and, toward the end of the song, began alternating with a flash of Jaws, creating the illusion that the girl was ever-so-happily being eaten by Jaws. Perez continued to catch the audience off-guard throughout the show, playing a reel that opened with a man and woman straight from the ’60s on a rollercoaster getting pulled up to prepare the first drop. Although this scene began quite normally, it quickly developed into something much more “Danny Perez” when the man and woman began making out and then stripping off their clothes while still on the rollercoaster. As a whole, Perez’s visuals perfectly augmented Lennox’s aural creations, making Panda Bear’s show infinitely interesting – and, at times, just plain weird – but certainly something unique and memorable.

At the end of the night, both Panda Bear and Perez presented the type of show that audiences rarely experience – one that is beautifully crafted and entirely unforgettable. Even with his set alone, Lennox solidified himself as an artist who continually reinvents himself in unpredictable, exciting new ways and practically guaranteed that the to-be-announced release date of Tomboy will find record stores packed with eager fans ready to bring the songs of Tomboy home.

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