On Justin’s strong recommendation (err…absolute insistence), I headed over to Governor’s Island last night to check out Panda Bear. Despite being exhausted from a late-night on Friday, the outing alone could have been worth it just for the ferry ride over to Governor’s. Not only was it an absolutely beautiful night in NYC, but the 9/11 memorial lights streamed up to the night sky from Ground Zero and added a magical (if ominous) glow to the lights of the NYC skyline. It made for an amazing and intense ambiance to take in some of the most unique music I’ve heard in a while.

We arrived during a solid set by one of the opening acts, Teengirl Fantasy, who laid down some deep- and dub-house cuts to get the crowd energized. As with much of the music throughout the night, it was just a couple steps removed from dance-able. The second opener, Gala Drop, was a bit more interesting as they had live drums and guitar along with a slew of synths. I was grooving to their first few tunes, but after a while, I couldn’t help but think they were a bit derivative of some of the jammier electronic outfits like Lotus and Sound Tribe Sector 9. Of course, they’re from Portugal, so it’s likely they have no idea what either of those bands sound like.

After a quick bathroom and beer break, Panda Bear finally took to the stage and set the tone of the night starting with a slow-building, vocal-heavy tune called “Drone.” Having previously heard some live cuts from Animal Collective and Panda Bear, I have sometimes been put off by Noah’s vocal approach in the live setting. To my ears, he was sometimes off-key and often relied a bit too heavily on his signature vocal blurts and yelps. Although the yelps appeared a bit here and there, it seems like he’s really toned that down and focused on perfecting his vocals.

“Drone” gradually faded into the opening melodies of “Daily Routine” which featured a seriously-extended intro with Noah teasing the basic rhythms and melodies of the tune. He was basically toying with the audience’s ears by pushing it out as far as it could go before finally resolving into the familiar chorus that he knew most people in the audience would know well.

The rest of his set fell into a similar pattern, where he gradually pieced together psychedelic textures with down-tempo beats to create a unique sonic template for his vocal delivery — which was much more crisp and on-point than I expected. Overall, what I really like about Panda Bear’s music is that the instrumental layers really push the sound out into unfamiliar territory, while his vocals bring your ears back with subtle melodic hooks to keep you in recognizable terrain. So, sounds that might otherwise be jarring and angular are brought back to life with the familiarity of a melody based on a basic major scale. All told, it’s some of the most original music I’ve heard in a long time….and I listen to a lot of music.

I don’t think I could really do the show justice with a complete play-by play, so here are some of my personal highlights:

“Slow Motion” — The beats bump hard like a gangsta rap anthem but the rest is Noah’s patented vocal delivery; unique and fresh to my ears.

“Surfer’s Hymn” — This is a great example of how Panda Bear combines wild instrumental textures with catchy melodies; this song’s chorus/hook rivals “My Girls” in its ability to be burned into your memory.

“Tomboy” — is there anybody else that sounds like this?

Panda Bear “Tomboy” – Live at Governor’s Island, NYC [whitperson on YouTube]

“Ponytail” — loved the transition into this song which was a gradual fade where a barely-recognizable melody slowly morphed into place. It’s also just a beautiful song with a more emotional tone than a lot of his other songs.

“I Think I Can/Chores” – I love this mellower take on “Chores” (the studio version from Animal Collective is basically a different song). Great encore to end a killer show.

Let’s just say that I’m eagerly awaiting the tapes of this one from NYC taper. (updated with link)

Panda Bear @ Governor's Island, NYC 9.11.10

Panda Bear @ Governor’s Island 9.11.10
with Avey Tare (DJ Set) / Teengirl Fantasy / Gala Drop
(w/ a little help from BrooklynVegan’s commenters)

Daily Routine
Guys Eyes
Surfer’s Hymn
Comfy In Nautica
Slow Motion
Last Night At The Jetty
You Can Count on me

Alsatian Darn
I think I Can/Chores

Check out the stellar audio recording from NYCtaper.