Review: Panda Bear @ Fox Theater, Oakland 9/6/10
Panda Bear rolled through the Bay Area last night to play a show at the Fox Theater in Oakland, and the set was heavy on new songs, reverb and generally all things musically and visually that excite your trusty editor. It was an amazing show front to back, and I highly suggest you find time to catch his show if he’s making a stop in your metro area in the near future. Read on for a play-by-play…
The openers Nite Jewel had a set filled with angular indie rock and were able to keep the crowd interested in a way that most openers normally can’t pull off at a show like this. The mix of tracks and flows to the songs was interesting. At times, I found myself really digging the stuff they were laying down, especially when the vocals were able to cut through the rest of the reverb, but at other times I was utterly annoyed at the band and felt like they were being angular just to be angular. You can tell that when you’re watching some band you’ve never heard and you let yourself get into their groove. Angular indie rock purposely throws that groove off, leaving you guessing when the next change is going to come. Yeah, they did a bunch of that crap. But it was good and a worthy opener to an artist that I’m pretty sure nobody is touching sonically these days.
That artist that nobody can touch would be Mr. Noah Lennox himself, otherwise known musically as Panda Bear. Ever since I first caught wind of Person Pitch and his live DVD, I’ve been absolutely enthralled by his music and the vibe that he’s putting out. It’s relaxed electronic, chill-wave if you will, but I can’t call it that without immediately just jumping my mind to the fact that this is music you can’t really put in a box. At times it’s orchestral, while at other times it’s hip-hop and completely bumping. Live, it sonically assaults your ears while providing a backbeat of thumping pass that keeps you on his rhythm, which can be quite angular for an electronic artist. And he now sports a guitar live, creating a whole new set of textures and performance elements that make the show all that more interesing. Combine this with some random-ass visuals, and the show is complete.
All of this makes sense when you hear the opener to his set these days, a track simply titled “Drone.”
The set started right on time with this tune and immediately you can just feel the song changes before you even know that they occurred. The tune builds slowly, just like every tune in his catalog, but it warmed up everyone’s ears and gave way to “Daily Routine,” a track that PB contributed to the last Animal Collective album, Merriweather Post Pavillion. I was excited to see some straying from the usual setlists that PB had been playing at his recent music festival appearances, and the flow of the music between his old songs and new songs was something that will keep fans interested in on these new headlining slots. The new songs need to be heard and digested before a lot of people will groove hard to them live, but thankfully I’ve done my homework and I knew everything that he was throwing at the audience. Plumes of smoke had entered the air by this point, and people were ready to continue on in trance land after about 15 minutes of straight treble.
Then the beat for “Tomboy” kicked in, and the guitar made its presence known with a jarring riff that stands out strongly against the “boom boom boom” sound that the bass drum gives off.
At this point I was blissed out beyond belief; the combination of his vocals, beats, visuals, and just overall presence remained stoic, striking, and surprisingly modest for the amount of sound that was coming out of the speakers. I can’t say enough about how this guy makes this music happen, and I watched intently as I imagined what his though process was in transitioning the songs or which songs to cue next. And I was on it; “Guys Eyes” came next but done in the “Song for Ariel” style that PB has played since the song debuted. This track is one of my favorites.
I’m not sure if he meant the start the song on the offbeat, but that’s how it happened and it still sounded like he didn’t skip a beat (even though he did). Anyone else catch that?
From there, we got another new track that’s made the rounds called “Surfer’s Hymn,” a track he’s been playing for a while now that may have been more familiar to the folks in attendance. Then onto the filtered intro version of “Ponytail,” and the crowd was cheering for this one as they heard the notes make their way through the audio haze. After that, it was a straight-set of new tunes except for a nicely sandwiched “Comfy in Nautica,” and the hip-hop backing to “Slow Motion” finally got everyone in the crowd to move a little bit. Most of the time the crowd stood fixated on the view in front of them, so it was nice to have a break to groove a bit.
If that song doesn’t make you groove, then I’m pretty sure you don’t have a pulse.
“Bullseye” came next, a song that really had me moving given the upbeat tempo of it. But then chaos gives way to beauty and we’re given a set closing “You Can Count on Me” from the latest EP that comes out in October. This song was just incredible live and a fitting set closing vehicle. Then, with a modest “thanks, i hope you had fun” from Noah’s mouth and a walk off the stage, the show was over not even an hour after he had hit the stage in the first place. Expecting little from the encore, I felt like I wanted the show to just keep going. It was not ready to be over yet, but I think that’s also part of the joy and experience of seeing a solo artist like this. The show is what he makes of it. He only wanted to do this set, because he likely wants us to experience these songs together to fit a message, mood and vibe that he believes would be kinda sweet. People totally shit on this idea when he played Pitchfork Music Festival, which only goes further to support the judgy hipster stereotype that comes from the audience that reads Pitchfork.com on the regular. And I bet everybody would have judged the hell out of the choice to play the b-side from the newest, soon-to-be-released EP, a song called “Alsatian Darn.” Perhaps the slowest builder in his entire repeatoire, the song was easily the most ominous inclusion in the setlist and something I did not expect to end the evening musically.
I left the concert speechless, completely in awe of what I just experienced. One of the best shows I’ve seen in a while.
Guys Eyes (“Song for Ariel” style)
At the Jetty
Comfy in Nautica
You Can Count on Me
E: Alsatian Darn
About the author
Justin Ward is the Editor at Live Music Blog and has been with the site from the very beginning. He currently lives in San Francisco and regularly tweets other stuff over @justinpward.
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